Vice President Joe Biden called on India today to join the U.S. in a global effort to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a class of super pollutants hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Biden called for action through the Montreal Protocol, echoing an agreement with China last month that called for an HFC phasedown “through multilateral approaches that include using the expertise and institutions of the Montreal Protocol.”
The Montreal Protocol has reduced ozone pollution successfully over the last couple decades, but it had an outsized side-effect. Using HFCs as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances are leading to a dangerous rise in global warming pollution. The U.S., Mexico, and Canada have proposed an amendment to phase down HFCs through the Montreal Protocol every year for the past four years. Over 100 countries currently support a phase down of HFCs.
Biden’s call to action follows months of concerted effort on HFCs from the Obama administration:
- President Obama and President Xi of China announced U.S.-China collaboration on a Montreal Protocol-based HFC phasedown at their informal Sunnylands summit in June.
- Secretary of State John Kerry and the Indian Minister of Exterior Affairs Salman Khurshid agreed to strengthen climate talks and identify areas of further cooperation later that month.
Just last week, Vice President Biden highlighted the Sunnylands deal as an example of further action that leaders could build on in India: “We just concluded an agreement with China to reduce the use of pollutants called HFCs that cause climate change,” Biden said in a speech hosted by the Center for American Progress at George Washington University. “And there’s no reason we cannot do more with India as well,” he added.
Biden’s remarks today bode well for future cooperation to eliminate HFCs. And the administration’s efforts to build conversations with world leaders about the dangerous effects of HFCs indicate that momentum to eliminate them is rising. This conversation should continue as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Washington for talks with President Obama this September.
This is good news, because while stabilizing the climate long-term requires phasing out carbon emissions, reducing hydrofluorocarbons — human-made substances found in refrigerators, air conditioning systems, and solvents — and other super pollutants is also necessary. Super pollutants heat up the climate fast, and eliminating them now will buy a little time to eliminate other dangerous emissions.
Only by drawing on the expertise of “our brilliant scientists on both sides of the Pacific” — by tackling climate change collaboratively, with India as a major partner — can we hope to stem the rapid warming of our planet. Collective action to phase down HFCs would be an important step in that direction.