Opinion | The Senate should ratify the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocols

It’s rare for a climate change measure to win full-throated support from industry groups, environmental activists and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. Ratifying the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol would bolster US manufacturing and show US commitment to climate leadership — a true win-win. Yet even the most innocuous climate proposals tend to die in Congress, as politicians seek opportunities to score points with their base by engaging in climate demagoguery. For once, that might not happen — and on a measure that promises to do a lot of good, as the Senate prepares to vote this week on the Kigali Amendment.

The Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987 and ratified by the United States a year later, was a landmark agreement among world governments to phase out the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances, particularly chlorofluorocarbons used in household devices such as refrigerators and air conditioners. A related class of substances, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), emerged as a popular substitute. While these chemicals do not damage the ozone layer, they act as extremely potent greenhouse gases, trapping heat in the atmosphere 1,000 times more effectively than carbon dioxide.

After more than a decade of talks — and significant engagement from President Barack Obama — global negotiators agreed in 2016 on an amendment to the Montreal Protocol that would phase out HFCs and, in so doing, prevent up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming. The Kigali Amendment, named for the capital of Rwanda where it was hashed out, was backed by the chemical industry, which had already invested heavily in alternatives. US manufacturers hoped to leverage their strengths in research and development to roll out next-generation products and edge out competitors in overseas markets. A 2018 report by the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy, a trade association, estimated that this could generate more than 30,000 US jobs.

The amendment has since been ratified or accepted by 137 nations, including China and India. Yet US ratification stalled during the Trump administration, which was hostile both to multilateral treaties and to climate action. President Biden revived efforts last year, sending the amendment to the Senate for ratification in November. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved it in May, and Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) set it up for a vote this week. Full passage of the amendment would require approval from two-thirds of the senators present.

This should be a no-brainer. The Kigali Amendment’s phase-out timeline is already part of US policy: The 2020 American Innovation and Manufacturing Act directed the Environmental Protection Agency to set new rules on HFCs, and the EPA issued regulation last year that would bring the United States into compliance with the amendment. But Senate approval would ensure the country will avoid trade restrictions for non-ratifying countries, set to begin in 2033, and would safeguard US companies’ access to expanding international markets.

More immediately, enshrining the international protocol would signal that the United States is committed to international climate policy — and demonstrate the commitment is at least somewhat bipartisan. This would give the United States more credibility as it presses other nations to make their own climate commitments, which is the only way to tackle climate change. The Senate should not hesitate to ratify a measure that is good for the economy, the environment — and US global leadership.

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