International climate action took an encouraging step forward today. President Obama reached agreements with the G-20 and with China to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), potent greenhouse gases used in appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners.
The new agreements—if carried out effectively—could make a dent in short-term and long-term warming: The latest data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) projects global HFC emissions to increase more than four-fold between 2010 and 2030. A global phasedown could limit the growth of these dangerous greenhouse gases.
The global phasedown also marks broader progress when it comes to international collaboration on climate change. This is the second climate announcement this week, with President Obama issuing a statement with Nordic leaders just a few days earlier. Putting climate back on the "top table" globally is a welcome signal before the IPCC meetings in a few weeks time.
Three big takeaways from this week’s developments are important to keep in mind:
1) G-20 Leaders Support a Phasedown Using the Montreal Protocol
While the United States—along with Canada and Mexico—have proposed an international phasedown of HFC emissions under the Montreal Protocol for the past four years, other countries have historically been unwilling to show their support.
As part of the agreement just made, leaders from 26 nations (G-20 countries) expressed their support for “multilateral approaches that include using the expertise and the institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), based on the examination of economically viable and technically feasible alternatives.” Notably, this includes nations like India and Brazil, which have historically been hesitant to commit to phasing down the use of HFCs. China has also traditionally been wary of using the Montreal Protocol for this purpose, but began to change course in June when the United States and China released a joint statement using similar language to today’s G-20 agreement.
2) U.S. and China Move Forward on HFC Action
Today also saw a separate agreement with China that builds on earlier progress in June, when President Obama and President Xi released a joint statement indicating their commitment to a phase down of HFCs. Today’s statement builds on a pattern of increased collaboration between the United States and China on climate change issues that began in April with the U.S.-China Joint Statement on Climate Change. It was followed by the June HFC statement and the July Strategic and Economic Dialogue Climate Change Report. Today’s agreement takes the HFC statement a step further, with the two countries indicating they will work to establish “an open-ended contact group to consider all relevant issues.”
Formation of this type of group is a required first step towards amending the Montreal Protocol to include HFC reductions (the Montreal Protocol currently only regulates ozone-depleting HCFCs and CFCs).
3) U.S. Builds on Domestic Action
These two new agreements build on the domestic action that the United States has recently taken to address its own HFC emissions. As part of the National Climate Action Plan, President Obama directed EPA to use its authority to prohibit certain uses of HFCs that would do great damage to the climate, while identifying and approving climate-friendly alternatives. Recent WRI analysis found that besides power plants, reducing America’s use of HFCs is the next-largest source of reductions needed to get the country on track to meet its international commitment of reducing emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
Building Toward Global Climate Action
Countries still have a significant amount of work to do to shift the world toward a much-needed low-carbon future. HFCs are potent greenhouse gases, but they are just one of many that need to be significantly reined in. Still, the agreements today mark an encouraging sign of progress when it comes to nations coming together to curb climate change. Today’s events could serve as inspiration for scaling up international ambition.