US crackdown on potent greenhouse gases

The US government announced Thursday that it has finalized regulations that should achieve the 15-year goal of reducing emissions of hydrofluorocarbons by 85%, a category of greenhouse gases that are extremely harmful to the climate.

It is “one of the most significant federal actions to reduce environmental pollution in decades,” according to a statement from Joe Biden’s administration.

This regulation had already been announced by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but is now “finalized”, said the head of the agency, Michael Regan, at a press conference.

It must return to reducing US emissions by the equivalent of 4.5 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2050, or about three years of emissions from the country’s energy sector, he said.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are refrigerant gases commonly used in air conditioners, refrigerators, or for the manufacture of insulating foams.

They can be “thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of warming our climate,” Gina McCarthy, national climate advisor, said at the press conference.

The Biden administration estimates that this action, which will begin in 2022, will “maintain and create hundreds of thousands” of jobs.

In practice, this includes encouraging the development of alternatives to HFCs, and their use, including for federal buildings and equipment. The government also intends to fight against the illegal import of HFCs.

“The United States is already at the forefront of innovation and production of alternatives to HFCs, so making this transition is good for our economy,” added Gina McCarthy.

With these regulations, the United States is respecting a commitment made in 2016 as part of the Kigali Accord. According to the schedule of this agreement, a group of so-called “developed” countries must reduce its consumption of HFCs by 85% by 2036, a target postponed by a few years for other countries.

If the deal is honored, it could reduce global warming by 0.5 ° C by 2100, experts say.

This American measure must also contribute to the fulfillment of Washington’s commitments within the framework of the Paris agreement. The United States is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% by 2030 from the 2005 level.

Hydrofluorocarbons have been used since the 1990s to replace CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), which are mainly responsible for the destruction of the ozone layer, and which had for this reason been banned under the Montreal Protocol. The Kigali Accord is an amendment to this protocol.

HFCs like CFCs belong to the family of what is called fluorinated gases.

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