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Biden submits treaty fighting climate super-pollutants for Senate approval

Move on hydrofluorocarbons, which are hundreds of times more potent than carbon dioxide, comes just days after global climate talks wrapped up at COP26

President Biden speaks Nov. 2 at a news conference during COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Evan Vucci/AP)

The Biden administration submitted a treaty amendment aimed at curbing a set of climate super-pollutants for Senate approval on Tuesday, White House officials confirmed.

The United States played a key role in forging the Kigali Amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which compels countries to phase down hydrofluorocarbons — human-made chemicals hundreds to thousands of times as powerful as carbon dioxide — by more than 80 percent by the middle of the century. But the Trump administration declined to transmit it to the Senate and reversed Obama-era rules aimed at cutting these chemicals, known as HFCs, which are widely used in refrigeration and air conditioning.

Curbing the use of hydrofluorocarbons is rare climate policy that garners support from both parties. It will need significant GOP backing to pass. The amendment, like all treaties, will require the approval of a two-thirds supermajority of the chamber to become law.

Democrats and Republicans alike rallied around an agreement a year ago to slash use of these potent greenhouse gases, making it possible for the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate them. The EPA finalized a rule in September that will ensure the United States meets the targets outlined in the international agreement.

The White House announcement earned swift praise from both environmentalists and industry representatives.

David Doniger, senior strategic director in the climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the amendment “a win, win, win” for workers, companies and the planet.

“Phasing down these harmful chemicals will create good-paying jobs and open export markets for manufacturers of new and safer products, while curbing a potent contributor to climate change,” he said.

Many U.S. chemical manufacturers have begun to produce more climate-friendly refrigerants and also back reducing the use and sale of HFCs worldwide.

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Ratification of the amendment “will create the certainty necessary for U.S. companies to solidify their natural technological advantage in both refrigerants and manufacture of the equipment that uses them,” said Stephen Yurek, head of the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute, a manufacturing trade group.

Widely used in both home and commercial cooling appliances, HFCs arrived on the market as a substitute for another set of dangerous chemicals that destroy the Earth’s protective ozone layer. But as HFCs seeped from those machines, scientists began to worry about how heat-trapping gases were contributing to global warming.

More than 120 countries are already party to the Kigali Amendment, including China and members of the European Union. But Biden, who instructed the State Department just after taking office to prepare the amendment for a Senate vote, had not followed through on that promise until now.

“It’s long past time that we join the rest of the international community in addressing HFCs and taking the kind of bold, transformational climate action that this moment demands,” Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement. “Doing so would not only be good for our planet but our economy as well.”

The announcement comes off the heels of a major climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, where nearly 200 countries struck a deal nudging nations to strengthen near-term climate targets without offering any concrete path forward limiting Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

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