Why po­tent green­house gases are meet­ing’s fo­cus

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH -

Green­house gases that are more pow­er­ful than car­bon diox­ide are the fo­cus of a global gath­er­ing this week in Africa. Ex­perts say cut­ting hy­droflu­o­ro­car­bons, or HFCs, is the fastest way to re­duce global warm­ing. The United States is among the coun­tries that want the world to quickly phase out the use of HFCs, and Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry is there to en­cour­age a deal. Here’s a look at a po­ten­tial global cli­mate agree­ment that has been de­scribed by the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil as “the world’s big­gest cli­mate pro­tec­tion achieve­ment in the year af­ter Paris.”


The ozone layer has been heal­ing for a while, thanks to the global agree­ment known as the Mon­treal Pro­to­col. In 1987, coun­tries alarmed by the dis­cov­ery of a huge hole in the ozone layer over Antarc­tica signed the treaty to even­tu­ally end the use of chlo­roflu­o­ro­car­bons, which at the time were used in re­frig­er­a­tors and aerosols like hair spray.

HFCs were in­tro­duced to re­place CFCs, and sci­en­tists real­ized only later that they have a strong ef­fect on global warm­ing. Al­though HFCs don’t harm the ozone layer, their abil­ity to trap the heat ra­di­at­ing off the Earth is hun­dreds or thou­sands of times more po­tent than that of car­bon diox­ide. The UN En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gram says that re­duc­ing HFCs un­der the treaty could re­duce global warm­ing by .5-de­gree Cel­sius by the end of this cen­tury and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups say the step is es­sen­tial to meet­ing the goals of the Paris Agree­ment on cli­mate change.


The United States and China have their dif­fi­cult is­sues, but the world’s two worst pol­luters have pushed to fight cli­mate change. The two heavy­weights agreed in 2013 to pur­sue a deal to phase out HFCs, which are used in air con­di­tion­ers, re­frig­er­a­tors and in­su­lat­ing foams. The U.S. and China are urg­ing the coun­tries gath­ered this week in Kigali, Rwanda, to ex­tend the Mon­treal Pro­to­col to in­clude HFCs. They also want agree­ment on an “early freeze date” for when coun­tries must cap their use of them. The US and In­dia, the world’s third worst pol­luter, also have agreed to try to use the treaty to phase out the chem­i­cal.


HFCs have been called the world’s fastest­grow­ing cli­mate pol­lu­tants, though they are less plen­ti­ful than car­bon diox­ide. The growth comes as more peo­ple in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries make enough money to buy ap­pli­ances. Last month, Kerry said HFCs cur­rently emit as much pol­lu­tion as 300 coal-fired power plants. At an in­ter­na­tional cli­mate meet­ing in July for state par­ties to the Mon­treal Pro­to­col, Kerry stressed the ur­gency of fight­ing cli­mate change, say­ing it is as dan­ger­ous as the threat posed by the Is­lamic State and other ex­trem­ist groups, if not more so.


Small is­land states and other coun­tries, in­clud­ing many in Africa, that say they face the big­gest threat from cli­mate change are urg­ing ac­tion on HFCs, and soon. At the July meet­ing by states par­ties to the treaty, many coun­tries fa­vored cap­ping the growth of HFCs in 2021. China was said to pre­fer later in the decade, with In­dia aim­ing at the end of it or be­yond. What­ever the tim­ing, less­de­vel­oped.

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