Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development

U.S. Targets HFCs Ahead of UN Climate Negotiations

Cutting short-lived climate pollutants significant part of U.S. contribution to UN process

31 March 2015 – The U.S. announced this morning that reduction of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), including hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and methane, are a significant part of its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) to climate safety, along with cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other climate gases.

“The White House understands that fast mitigation is essential for near-term climate protection and can be achieved by cutting the short-lived climate pollutants, in many cases by using existing laws and institutions,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.  The White House announcement highlighted its efforts to cut the production and use of the super greenhouse gas, HFCs, both at home and globally through the Montreal Protocol, which has already provided more climate protection than any other policy.

President Obama has made the HFC phasedown under the Montreal Protocol a key climate priority.  He included it in his first meeting with China’s President Xi nearly two years ago in Sunnylands, California, where the two leaders agreed to work together to reduce the risks from North Korea, and to phase down HFCs.  President Obama also included the HFC phase down as part of his first meeting with India’s Prime Minister Modi last year, and again this year when he joined Prime Minister Modi for the Republic Day celebration.

Phasing down HFC production and use under the Montreal Protocol will provide the equivalent of up to 146 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050, and avoid up to 0.5°C of warming by 2100. A fast phase down by 2020 will provide additional mitigation, equivalent of up to 64 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.  Further mitigation is available from improving the energy efficiency of air conditioners and other appliances using HFCs as coolants.  In the past, Montreal Protocol phase outs have catalyzed improvements in energy efficiency of 30 to 60%.  This reduces fossil fuel use and cuts carbon dioxide emissions.

The White House announcement today stated:

Economy-Wide Measures to Reduce other Greenhouse Gases: EPA and other agencies are taking actions to cut methane emissions from landfills, coal mining, agriculture, and oil and gas systems through cost-effective voluntary actions and common-sense regulations and standards.  At the same time, the State Department is working to slash global emissions of potent industrial greenhouse gases, called HFCs, through an amendment to the Montreal Protocol; EPA is cutting domestic HFC emissions through its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program; and, the private sector has stepped up with commitments to cut global HFC emissions equivalent to 700 million metric tons through 2025.

Today’s announcement reaffirmed that the U.S. will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, nearly doubling its current greenhouse gas reduction pace, an effort previously outlined in a U.S.-China bilateral agreements last November.  According to the announcement “the 2025 target will require a further emission reduction of 9-11% beyond our 2020 target compared to the 2005 baseline and a substantial acceleration of the 2005-2020 annual pace of reduction, to 2.3-2.8 percent per year, or an approximate doubling.”

“President Obama knows that solving climate change requires global cooperation among the major polluters, including China, India, the U.S., and the EU,” Zaelke added.  “The President also knows that the best way to ensure such cooperation is to show that the U.S. is making the necessary cuts at home, and his announcement today does just that. Today the U.S. raised the bar for action in Paris. The U.S. also showed that it will continue its efforts to conclude an agreement under the Montreal Protocol to eliminate the climate damage from HFCs, one of the six main greenhouse gases, in advance of the Paris talks.”

Mexico also highlighted the importance of reducing short-lived pollutants in its commitment released Friday, including an unconditional pledge to reduce black carbon 51% by 2030.

All countries have been asked to provide public framework of intended contributions for the global climate agreement, in advance on the Paris meeting.  Today marks the first informal deadline for countries to submit their INDCs ahead of the Paris meeting, although the EU, Switzerland, Norway and Mexico are the only countries to submit their pledges as of yet. The magnitude of the U.S. commitments is expected to play a significant role in the contributions of countries that have not yet released their INDCs.