This may be seen as a tired subject by now but over the past few months additional counties have come forward and ratified the Kigali Amendment. So far this month New Zealand and Mauritius have both ratified the document. The month before in September we saw Vietnam and Bhutan commit to the amendment.
For those of you who do not know, the Kigali Amendment is an addendum to the original Montreal Protocol that we all know so well. While the goal of the Montreal Protocol was to phase out Ozone damaging substances such as CFC and HCFCs the Kigali Amendment focuses instead on HFC refrigerants. This would include your R-404A, R-410A, R-134a, and others. Instead of the focus being on Ozone depletion we now look at Global Warming Potential.
There are a lot of nuances that come with this new amendment that I won’t get into here, but the end goal is to reduce HFC refrigerant usage significantly across the world. The thinking is that we have already done it once with CFC/HCFC refrigerants why not do it again with HFCs?
Each month that passes we have seen a steady stream of countries ratifying the amendment. As I write this article there are over eighty countries that have agreed to it. You can see the complete list of countries who have ratified the document on the United Nations website.
Who has NOT ratified the Kigali agreement?
Notice anything after reviewing that list? Some of the biggest and most powerful countries in the world have not ratified the document. Some of these are India, Russia, China, and the United States. These countries are some of your biggest polluters in the world. (Mainly China and India.)
It is not a surprise that these other countries have not moved forward with the amendment. The real surprise is that the United States has not moved forward. Now, before I get further into this, I want to make a point that I do not get into politics on this website. It’s in poor taste and can alienate readers. That being said, prior to the 2016 election the United States was heading towards adoption of this amendment.
The Obama Administration was in Kigali, Rwanda at the time of the signing and had pledged to move forward with the amendment. However, since Trump was elected the status of the amendment has stalled. From what I understand, all that needs to be done is for the State Department to send the amendment to the Senate where the Senate will then ratify. But, Trump’s State Department has sat on the treaty and has no intention of sending it to the Senate. Even if the Trump Administration sent the amendment to the Senate there is still little hope of it being ratified by a Republican controlled majority.
The amendment itself was effective on January 1st, 2019 and now as we approach the end of 2019 I do not foresee this amendment showing up at the Federal level in the near future. It is just not on the top of anyone’s list. If the world wants to see the Kigali Amendment adopted by the United States then they will have to wait until the 2020 election and see how the American people vote.
How does the USA fit in the Kigali Agreement?
If an alternative voice to Trump is elected then chances are the Kigali Amendment will move forward. But, if Trump is re-elected then the United States will be one of the few countries that haven’t signed the treaty.
At the time of the signing of the Kigali Amendment back in 2016 the United States had restrictive rules already on the books for HFC refrigerants. These rules were issued by the Environmental Protection Agency using their authority given to them by the Clean Air Act. However, shortly after Trump was elected a Federal Judge overturned these EPA rules stating that the EPA had overstepped it’s authority. The HFC rules were now null and void.
At the time of the signing the Kigali Amendment was seen as a similar step to the already existing EPA rules. There wasn’t much that would change between Kigali and the EPA’s rules. It was a logical next move. But in today’s world with the Kigali in limbo and the EPA’s rules overturned there is very little hope for a Federal plan on phasing down HFC refrigerants.
Without a change at the White House the only way to move forward now is through individual state mandates. Some states have already taken the imitative and proposed and passed their own HFC phase down rules. California was the first and New York wasn’t too far behind. There are now around a dozen states that either have passed HFC phase down laws or are currently working through their own documents within their state houses.
The downside here is that we get a mish mash of rules and regulations that vary from state to state. This can make it very difficult for manufacturers and even contractors/technicians from servicing multiple states. The other side of this who knows how long these state HFC phase downs will last. There was a story in the news a few weeks ago on how the Environmental Protection Agency had voided California’s automotive mileage per gallon rules.
California has their own version of the EPA known as the California Air Resource Board (CARB). CARB had created their own rules when it comes to automotive mileage per gallon. Recently though Trump’s EPA announced that those rules were voided and that the EPA had precedent over California’s CARB. This was a hostile move seen by California but frankly, there’s not much they can do about it. They may challenge it in court and we may see a ruling down the road, but my money is on the Federal Government winning. The Federal Government has even threatened to withhold Federal highway dollars to California if they do not comply with EPA authority. California is definitely in a tight spot here and it will interesting to watch this fight in the future.
All of this leads me to question all of these states that are passing individual HFC phase down laws. Do they have authority to do this? Will the EPA come after them for overstepping their bounds? Will we see ALL of these regulations tossed out? Will the United States ever phase out HFC refrigerants, or will we be using them the same way we are now in ten or twenty years from now? Time will only tell.