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Pandemic Relief Bill Mandates HFC Phasedown in Compliance with Montreal Protocol’s Kigali Amendment

Reducing HFC refrigerants could avoid up to 0.5°C of future warming
Climate benefits could double with parallel improvements in energy efficiency of cooling equipment

Washington, DC, 8 January 2020- In a huge win for the environment and American businesses, the Consolidated Appropriations Act that was signed into law on 27 December 2020 phases down potent greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The HFC phase-down provisions are included in Section 103, known as the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020, which provides federal authority to phase down HFC production and consumption in line with the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. The law mandates a reduction in the climate impacts of HFCs produced and consumed in the USA by 85% over the next 15 years, and provides EPA with the authority to regulate HFCs even faster in key sectors.

An industry report forecasts that phasing down HFCs will increase exports, create thousands of new jobs, and generate billions in new investment in the US economy.

The climate benefits of the legislation are even more significant. The Montreal Protocol’s 2018 quadrennial Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion, confirmed that a fast phasedown of HFCs could avoid up to 0.5°C of warming, with the initial schedule of the Kigali Amendment capturing 90% of this potential and can capture the rest with an accelerated schedule, or leapfrog strategy. 

If EPA acts quickly on its new authority, the HFC phasedown in the USA will reduce 900 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent over the next 15 years, according to an analysis by the Rhodium Group. These benefits are based on the 100-year global warming potentials of HFCs. However, HFCs generally have short atmospheric lifetimes, with their warming impacts concentrated in the decade or two following their release, so many scientists advise using 20-year global warming potentials when evaluating policies that reduce HFC emissions. When using the 20-year global warming potentials, the new law will eliminate  closer to 2 billion tons of CO2-equivalent over the next two decades.

Beyond phasing down HFCs, improving the energy efficiency of air conditioners and other cooling equipment has the potential to at least double the climate benefits of the Kigali Amendment in the near-term. The latest Assessment of Climate and Development Benefits of Efficient and Climate Friendly Cooling calculates that deploying today’s best available energy efficient technologies for stationary air conditioning and refrigeration can cut cumulative emissions from the stationary AC and refrigeration sectors by the equivalent of 38–60 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2030, and by 210­­–460 billion tonnes by 2060, depending on future rates of de-carbonization of electricity generation.

The HFC provision had bipartisan support from both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate and was broadly supported by U.S. manufacturers and small businesses in the heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration industry.

Senator Tom Carper, the ranking Democratic on the Environment and Public Works Committee and a key architect of the HFC legislation, said:

“By enabling the U.S. to join the rest of the world in phasing down HFCs, this language will help our planet avoid half a degree Celsius in global warming while supporting U.S. industries already making the next generation of HFC-alternatives, which employ more than 593,000 Americans. The AIM Act would:

  • Save American consumers $3.7 billion over 15 years;
  • Increase U.S. manufacturing output by almost $39 billion over seven years; and,
  • Result in the creation of 150,000 more American jobs.”

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, told The New York Times that the bill to reduce planet-warming chemicals is “the single biggest victory in the fight against climate change to pass this body in a decade.”

The Atlantic magazine ranked the HFC provision as one of the  5 Biggest Climate Stories of 2020, noted it is “actual progress—and some truly good news to end an awful year.”

Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute of Governance & Sustainable Development, said “this is a powerful signal that the US is back in the climate game, and the opening round in the Biden Administration’s ten-year sprint to reduce the other short-lived climate pollutants—methane, tropospheric ozone, and black carbon soot.”

Zaelke added, “Cutting these climate pollutants in the next decade can cut the rate of climate warming by half, a critical strategy for keeping the planet safe as countries pursue the goals of net-zero climate emissions by 2050.”

Further reading

  • Coral Davenport, New York Times (21 December 2020, updated 23 December), Climate Change Legislation Included in Coronavirus Relief Deal: The legislation calls for cutting the use of powerful planet-warming chemicals common in air-conditioners and refrigerators