In October 2016, negotiators from 170 countries reached a landmark compromise in Kigali, Rwanda to counter climate change by cutting the international use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a powerful planet-warming chemical used in air conditioners and refrigerators.
Unlike the recent COP21 Paris agreement, which included voluntary pledges by majority of the countries in the world to cut carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, the Kigali deal targets one specific thing – HFCs – and has deadlines to replace HFCs with more environmentally conscious alternatives. Though HFCs make up a small percentage of atmospheric greenhouse gases, they have 1,000 times the heat-trapping strength of carbon dioxide, making HFCs a supercharged greenhouse gas.
The new Kigali agreement is an amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol that banned ozone-depleting coolants called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). It required compromise between affluent countries and less developed nations where air conditioner use is increasing. In accordance with the agreement, more developed countries are to help finance the developing countries’ transition to the more expensive alternatives.
The United States and other affluent countries have agreed freeze the use of HFCs by 2018 while China, Brazil and all of Africa will phase out HFC use by 2024. Countries in warmer climates such as India, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait will freeze HFC use by 2028.
The deal is expected to lead to the reduction of about 70 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The chemical industry is working hard to research HFC alternatives, according to Stephen Yurek of the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, an advocacy group.