Is your Refrigerator Running? Notes on the Landmark Kigali Accord

by Moses Viveros

If your refrigerator or air conditioner is running, it’s probably contributing to Global Warming. You’re probably wondering “My refrigerator contribute to global warming? How is that even possible?” Well, most air conditioners and refrigerators use a chemical known as HydroFluorocarbons, or HFCs. HFCs only make up a small percentage of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but with 1,000 times the heat trapping potency of carbon dioxide. In an attempt to mitigate rising global temperatures, more than 170 countries met in Kigali, Rwanda, and reached a legally binding accord to cut the worldwide use of HFCs in air conditioners and Refrigerators.

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Secretary of State, John Kerry, in Kigali (source: James Akena/Reuters)

The Kigali deal took seven years of work and is a compromise among the 170 countries that were part of the negotiations. Richer nations are able to halt production of HFCs more quickly than poorer nations. Nevertheless, some countries in Africa are making strides to eliminate the chemicals more quickly than required, citing the grave threats that they face from global warming. Unlike the Paris agreement where countries are not held accountable to meet their carbon emissions reduction pledges, the Kigali deal includes specific targets and timetables to replace HFCs with eco-friendly alternatives, trade sanctions as punishments, and an agreement by wealthier countries to help finance the transition costs of poorer countries.

HFCs were developed as a response to the Montreal Protocol which worked to ban ozone-depleting coolants called ChloroFluorocarbons, or CFCs. HCFs were developed as they did not harm the ozone layer, but unfortunately had a greater heat trapping intensity when released into the atmosphere. Scientists say that that the Kigali deal will be able to stave off increasing global temperatures by one degree Fahrenheit. This is a major step towards averting a global temperature increase of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit which could have catastrophic effects. The deal is expected to lead to a reduction of 70 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — about two times the carbon pollution produced annually by the entire world.

Industry leaders from the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute were in Kigali to push for the deal. They remained committed towards developing HFC alternatives. For countries that typically face hotter climates such as India, though, there was great opposition toward the proposal. In India, and in many other countries that are experiencing a growing middle class, many people are on the verge of being able to afford air conditioning units that are powered by HFCs.

In the end, the agreement that was reached proposed that the richest countries, such as the US and the European Union, would halt production and consumption of HFCs by 2018. Much of the rest of the world, including countries like China, Brazil, and all of those in Africa, would halt HFC production and consumption by 2024. And the world’s hottest countries — India, Pakistan, Kuwait, Arabia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia — would have until 2028 to halt the production and consumption of HFCs.

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Coast of the Marshall Islands (source: New York Times)

For low-lying Pacific Nations, like the Marshall Islands, this was a major victory for the Island Nation that faces extinction from rising sea levels. Climate Change Director Mattlan Zackhras stated that “It’s a step toward ensuring the survival of our island. But, we need to take further steps.”

Moses viveros-m-croppedViveros is a senior SUST major at Roosevelt University and the SUST Program’s Student Associate for 2016-17. As part of this work-study position, he is also serving as the assistant editor for the SUST at RU Blog this year.

 

 

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