Good News for the Weekend: The World Just Took a Huge Step to Fight Climate Change

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Barack Obama is, by far, the most climate-friendly president ever. Granted, the competition isn’t fierce, and he failed in his signature effort to pass a carbon tax, but he’s still done fairly well:

  • He doubled CAFE standards.
  • He played an instrumental role at both the Copenhagen and Paris climate negotiations.
  • He forged an agreement with China to cut greenhouse gases and ratify the Paris agreement.
  • He pushed the Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. All that’s left is for the Supreme Court to let it go into effect.
  • Via the stimulus bill and in other ways, he has funded a big increase in solar power.

And now he’s added one more big achievement to his list. On Friday the world agreed to a legally-binding treaty to phase out and eliminate hydrofluorocarbons in air conditioners:

The talks in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, did not draw the same spotlight as the climate change accord forged in Paris last year. But the outcome could have an equal or even greater impact on efforts to slow the heating of the planet.

….HFCs are just a small percentage of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but they function as a sort of supercharged greenhouse gas, with 1,000 times the heat-trapping potency of carbon dioxide.

….The Kigali deal includes specific targets and timetables to replace HFCs with more planet-friendly alternatives, trade sanctions to punish scofflaws, and an agreement by rich countries to help finance the transition of poor countries to the costlier replacement products. So, narrow as it is, the new accord may be more likely to yield climate-shielding actions by industry and governments, negotiators say. And given the heat-trapping power of HFCs, scientists say that the Kigali accord will stave off an increase of atmospheric temperatures of nearly one degree Fahrenheit.

Bottom line: this agreement may do as much for climate change as the Paris agreement that became effective last week. The phase-in dates for eliminating HFCs vary by country, but once the market starts supplying air conditioners using other refrigerants, it’s likely that even hot, poor countries like India and Pakistan may beat their targets. And the United States and other developed countries have agreed to fund R&D into new refrigerants and to provide financial support to poorer countries for the changeover.

Bit by bit, the world is finally taking climate change seriously, even if the Republican Party isn’t. Greenhouse gas reductions may not be happening as fast as they need to, but they’re happening.

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