Guest post by Aidan Jackson, a recent graduate of the University of Texas and an intern at Environment Texas.
In some good news in the fight to keep the North Pole from melting, Congress is expected to approve a measure to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) today as part of the $1.4 trillion fiscal 2021 spending omnibus. According to the New York Times, “the legislation would be the first significant climate change law to pass Congress since at least 2009.”
HFCs are a human made chemical compound that are commonly used in refrigeration and air conditioning units. These compounds escape from our refrigerators and AC units into the sky, where they can stay in the atmosphere for hundreds of years absorbing radiation and warming the planet.
HFCs are a particularly dangerous greenhouse gas. Scientists calculate this negative impact with something called the “global warming potential” (GWP) which tells us how harmful a substance is to our ozone layer. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “the larger the GWP, the more that a given gas warms the Earth compared to CO2 over that time period”. Carbon dioxide and methane have a global warming potential of 1 and 34 respectively, but the most prevalent HFCs, on the other hand, have a global warming potential of anywhere from 1,370 to 4,180. This makes them thousands of times more dangerous than carbon dioxide based on the amount of heat they trap in our atmosphere.
The problem is so bad that in 2016 the United Nations proposed the Kigali amendment to add HFCs to the list of controlled substances that urgently needed to be phased out under the Montreal Protocol. “Once the Kigali amendment is implemented by all nations, scientists say it would stave off an increase of atmospheric temperatures of nearly one degree Fahrenheit,” according to the New York Times.
The HFCs amendment has already been ratified by 112 countries around the world, including the likes of France, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, and Australia. In just this year alone, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Russia, and the Holy See have all signed on as well. Notably excluded from this list is the United States, who has yet to ratify the amendment despite growing domestic support for banning these dangerous chemicals. While the bill does not include ratification, it would put us in compliance with the treaty.
Watchers of the Texas Legislature may have seen that in November state Senator Nathan Johnson filed Senate Bill 125 to address this very issue. Congratulations to Senator Johnson and all the people who raised awareness to this threat and made today’s victory possible.