To better meet its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by half based on 2005 levels before 2030, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has now proposed its first rule under the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act of 2020. The AIM Act has now shifted its focus to hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), directing the US to maximize reclamation, facilitate next-generation technologies, and minimize related consumption and equipment. The goal of this act is to reduce the nation’s production and import of HFCs by 85% over the next 15 years, where a global phase-down of such chemicals is expected to avoid “up to 0.5°C of global warming by 2100.”
Back in 1987, the Montreal Protocol was signed to regulate the production and use of chemicals contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer. Starting from 1989, the treaty was enforced to phase out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the leading substances commonly used in refrigeration, hairsprays, and deodorants production. HFCs were then introduced as a popular alternative. Without chlorine, HFCs had similar chemical properties useful in manufacturing but did not deplete the ozone layer. Thus, they were implemented to replace CFCs.
Even though HFCs do not deplete the ozone layer, they still contribute tremendously to global warming. In comparison to carbon dioxide, further studies have shown that although the average atmospheric lifetime for most commercially used HFCs is significantly lower (approximately 15 years vs. 5 centuries and counting), their greenhouse effect is hundreds and thousands of times more powerful. In fact, the most abundant HFC is 3790 times more damaging over a 20-year period. HFCs now account for around 1% of total greenhouse gas. Further, with the continuous annual growth rate of 10 to 15%, there will likely be a doubling of greenhouse gas every 5 to 7 years.
Fast forward to 2016, the Kigali Amendment, the most recent amendment of the Montreal Protocol, was signed for the phase-down of HFCs. Enforced from 2019, the treaty proposed the schedule to gradually cut off related eligible capacity until a ban on HFC trade with non-Parties by 2033. “Alliance states have been leading the charge in reducing HFC emissions in recent years and now have a strong federal partner in this push,” said the US climate alliance executive director. With the landmark act, the US is now joining the world to combat the climate change crisis.
While HFC mitigation brings immediate climate benefits likereduced natural disasters, the phase-down can also indirectly reduce the emissions of CO2 and other air pollutants. Besides environmental improvements, the fight against climate change can help solve other related problems. Domestically, the social message can send powerful incentives to facilitate improvements in the energy efficiency of everyday products, potentially saving billions to stimulate the economy and social welfares. Beyond technology advancement, this can also foster a progressive economic transformation for more sustainable jobs, where the short-term fluctuations can be largely eliminated by government compensation. Globally, climate migrants are still on the rise. In 2016 alone there were 24.2 million displacements by disasters, disproportionately taking a toll on small island states as weather-related hazards continue to be the highest cause. By 2050, more than 140 million people are expected to migrate because of climate change, leading to a series of political and human rights challenges. Affirmative policies reducing climate change can all contribute to alleviating the above-mentioned problems, creating a positive cycle of improvements from a broad perspective.
Faced with the global warming challenges, countries around the world must unite for a better planet. In addition to phasing down HFCs, the UN and World Meteorological organization have identified a package of control measures to promote sustainable energy use in fields including agriculture, fossil fuel consumption, waste management, and transportation. With the US now marking its support in the fight against HFCs, together, we can fight for more sustainable developments.
About the author
Rachel Fei is a freshman at Wellesley College. Her fields of interest include economics, gender studies, and philosophy.