Chill Out With The HFC’s

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Kin Ho

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan established the Montreal Protocol: a model of cooperation prohibiting the use of chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants in air conditioners and refrigerators. These chlorofluorocarbons were the leading cause in the deterioration of the ozone layer.

However, hydrofluorocarbons became the replacement chemical of choice; a chemical that, while safer for the ozone, was even more harmful to the environment, trapping heat within the Earth’s stratosphere at an unprecedented rate.

This problem only becomes exacerbated by the exponential development of technology, as air conditioners have become a more affordable commodity for the developing lower and middle class.

Furthermore, as global temperatures have been steadily rising, air conditioning is becoming more widely used than ever. Environmental protection being a globalized and universal issue, the Montreal Protocol is just one example of the countless international strategies enforced.

This past weekend became the latest in milestones supporting the fight for the environment, marking the next phase and development in Reagan’s Montreal Protocol. Nearly 200 countries met in Rwanda Saturday morning and unanimously agreed to limit the use of HFC gases, with specific timelines allowing for a gradual process of reduction.

“We’re seeing an unparalleled momentum to tackle climate change,” Harjeet Singh, a climate expert associated with the nonprofit ActionAid, said at the talk. However, while optimistic about our future on environmental issues, he says, “we need to reach much further.”

Countries have been given varying deadlines to ban HFCs, based predominantly on balancing the economic needs of those in developing nations against the threat of a changing climate.

Looking closer into the fine print of the agreement, the United States, the European Union, and other major HFC polluters are mandated to achieve their first 10% deduction of HFC’s by 2019 and a more ambitious milestone of 85% by 2036.

The rest of the actors involved in the agreement — including China, the leading HFC polluter — are only mandated their first 10% reduction by 2029.

India, Pakistan, and other Middle Eastern countries are not necessarily enforced to freeze production until 2028, still allowing HFC production to further peak.

However, as imperfect as the treaties may be, the more there are surrounding the issues of climate change, the more effective these treaties will ultimately be. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry labeled the new policy as, “the single most important step we could take at this moment to limit the warming of our planet.”

This agreement becomes a test of global resolve only one year after the Paris Accord on climate change. Unlike the agreements made in Paris, these talks produced a legally binding agreement to reduce carbon emissions. They will thus hold the force of international law, with trade and economic sanctions as deterrents to violate agreements.

In a press statement prior to the establishment of the agreement, Miguel Canete, a commissioner for the European Union previewed this as “a major step in delivering on the promises we made in Paris last December.”

With an overall objective of phasing out HFC’s by over 80% in the next three decades, this agreement hopes to reduce atmospheric warming by a full degree Fahrenheit in the coming century. The agreement, having been set into place in record time — only 11 months after its officialization last December — became a major stepping stone on the road to a pollution-free future.

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