Just over two years ago there was a final meeting on what is known today as the ‘Kigali Amendment.’ This amendment added to the existing Montreal Protocol. As you all know, the Montreal Protocol originated in the 1980’s and aimed at phasing down CFC and HCFC refrigerants. This phase out aimed at stopping any further damage to the Earth’s Ozone layer. While the treaty did what it set out to, it also directly led to the rise of HFC refrigerants such as R-410A, R-134a, and R-404A. Now, no matter where you go you’re going to find HFC refrigerants. The good news is that the Ozone damaging Chlorine refrigerants are a thing of the past. The bad news is that HFCs aren’t perfect though and now this latest amendment has HFCs in it’s cross hairs.
It took seven years of meetings and careful planning but an agreement was made in October of 2016 in Kigali, Rwanda. The amendment aimed at reducing HFC emissions by over eighty percent over the next thirty years. While it was signed by over one-hundred and sixty-seven countries, in order for the treaty to come into effect it had to be ratified by twenty separate countries governments before January 1st, 2019. This number was easily met and as I write this article today there are sixty-five countries that have ratified the HFC reducing amendment. There are many more expected to ratify over the next coming weeks and months.
That being said, there is some concern about this amendment. While sixty-five countries have ratified another one-hundred and thirty-two have not. Adding more worry about the amendment is that the United States and China fall into the listing of countries that have not ratified the amendment. I cannot imagine the overall effectiveness of a treaty like this if you do not have China and the US on your side. I do not know enough about the Chinese side of things, so in this article I’ll stick with the United States.
Since Trump took office there has not been a clear message on what will be done with the Kigali Amendment. In order for it to be ratified in America it has to go through The Senate, but in order for it to get to The Senate President Trump, or The Executive Branch, has to provide the amendment to The Senate. So far, over the past two years the Trump Administration has sat on the amendment and done nothing with it. There were a few times where it looked like progress would be made. An employee of the Trump Administration would say something positive about Kigali but then a few weeks later they would backpedal and we would be back at square one. I had predicted that by 2019 hit we would see nothing different from them either. There isn’t a flat-out refusal. The amendment is just in purgatory here in America and I predict it will stay that way.
If the pressure increases on the Trump Administration to adopt this amendment (Say if China ratifies the amendment before we do) then I can very well see Trump nixing the whole thing. That just seems to be his modus operandi. If you push too hard then he’ll go the other way. I think for now it is best for everyone to stay quiet and let the pressure build naturally. If there is too much pressure or if it seems genuine then we may get the exact opposite reaction that we are hoping for. I know it sounds a little far fetched but I believe that is how it is with this current administration.
The Good News
It’s not all bad news around here folks. No, there is a shining light when it comes to phasing down HFC refrigerants across the United States. Around the same time that the Trump Administration announced that they were pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord a group of Governors from various states formed an alliance. This alliance, known as the Climate Alliance, aimed at upholding the goals laid out in the now defunct Paris Climate Accord. Along with these goals they have also targeted similar climate and environmental changes and regulations.
Some of these specific targets have been HFC refrigerants. In fact, last year California passed a bill that closely imitated the Environmental Protection Agency’s SNAP Rule 20. This EPA rule was meant to be the first step in phasing down HFC refrigerants across the country. While the EPA’s rule was overturned by a Federal Court it is still being used as a template for various states such as California, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, and Washington State.
In fact the first part of California’s new law known as ‘The Cooling Act,’ went into effect January 1st, 2019. This first step is targeting supermarket systems, condensing units, and self-contained units. The rule states that R-404A, R-507A, and other high Global Warming Potential refrigerants would no longer be acceptable in new machines. Along with the stick there is also a carrot that gives incentives for those businesses that adopt lower GWP systems earlier then the required deadline.
I mentioned this above in the previous section but I just do not see the Trump Administration pushing this amendment to The Senate for ratification. It goes against everything else that the Administration has done. In fact, we are all waiting patiently on new HFC rules to be released from the Environmental Protection Agency. Some of these ‘new’ rules could end up rescinding HFC rules that were put in place during the Obama Administration. If these are rescinded then we could see recycled refrigerant being used in different machines, HFC leak repairs plummet, and unregulated HFC purchasing. (End users could purchase HFC refrigerants without licensing.)
The Kigali Amendment may be seen as a disappointment for those of us in the United States but we have hope with the Climate Alliance. While only a few states have come out with a HFC phase down plan it is just a matter of time before more states come forward. In fact, the newly elected governors of Michigan and Wisconsin have already signaled that they would be joining the alliance. We may end up with a piecemeal of states that phase down HFCs but if enough states jump on board then manufacturers will be forced to use lower GWP alternative refrigerants.