Segments of the HVACR industry are hailing the ratification of the Kigali Amendment, an international agreement to cut the production of refrigerants that are a major contributor to global warming when they escape into the atmosphere.
The move is expected to create domestic jobs and boost U.S. exports of air-conditioning and refrigeration products. The Kigali Amendment, already agreed to by more than 130 other countries, was ratified by the U.S. Senate on a bipartisan vote, 69-27, on September 21.
“The ratification levels the playing field in the global HVACR market with other nations, supports our domestic workforce, and encourages global competitors to follow our lead,” said Katie McGinty, vice president and chief sustainability and external relations officer at Johnson Controls Inc., in a prepared statement. “This amendment also supports our commitment to a more sustainable future by accelerating the transition to lower-GWP refrigerants.”
“ASHRAE is pleased to support this important treaty and will continue to engage with global partners to support the adoption of climate-friendly technical solutions to improve building sustainability and reduce climate impacts for generations to come,” said ASHRAE President Farooq Mehboob.
An amendment to the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 treaty that reduced the use of ozone-depleting substances, Kigali obligates signatory nations to reduce the production and use of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, which have a high global warming potential (GWP), over a period of years.
For most industrialized countries, including the U.S., that means cutting HFC use to 15% of 2012 levels by 2036; developing countries, including some with the hottest climates, have more extended timetables. China is currently classified as a developing country, but an amendment by Republicans, and included in the Senate’s ratification, proposes that Montreal Protocol signatories change China’s status.
Beginning in 2033, countries that are party to Kigali are banned from trading in HFCs with countries that aren’t.
Scientists say Kigali, if successful, will prevent about 1°F of predicted global warming by the end of the century.
While the U.S. was already moving toward reducing HFC use under the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020, with phasedown regulations expected from the Environmental Protection Agency next year, the ratification vote lends weight to the worldwide effort to cut HFC use.
It will also lead to 33,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs and $4.8 billion in annual exports, according to a study by the University of Maryland’s Interindustry Forecasting Project that was cited by Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a letter presenting the Kigali Amendment to President Joe Biden.
“The Kigali Amendment will drive the growth of U.S. businesses, stimulate investment in the U.S. economy, sustain U.S. technology leadership, open export markets to U.S. products, protect U.S. workers and consumers, and ensure U.S. interests will shape future international agreements,” Stephen Yurek, president and CEO of AHRI, which represents hundreds of manufacturers, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April.
Talking points issued jointly by AHRI and other organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, said agreeing to Kigali gives U.S. companies a better shot at selling HFC alternatives in countries that are also undergoing HFC phasedowns.
The Chemours Co., a major manufacturer of refrigerants, is planning a significant increase in the production of lower-GWP refrigerants, according to Joseph Martinko, the company’s business director for thermal and specialized solutions in North America. Chemours applauded the Senate’s ratification vote.
“We continue to prepare for the increased demand of lower-GWP solutions and recently announced a new $80 million capacity expansion project at our facility in Corpus Christi, Texas, to support growth and a sustainable future,” Martinko said in an email. Martinko said the company is not at this point able to predict how many jobs might be created at Chemours with the ratification of Kigali.
However, amid praise for the Senate’s move, Matt Michel, the president of the contractors group Service Nation, had a different take.
Michel questioned Kigali’s estimated offset of the predicted global temperature increase, calling it “a claim that can never be proven or disproven occurring on a date when everyone involved will be conveniently deceased.” He also said contractors “will endure a brief period of confusion,” that some could be hurt financially, and that consumers and businesses will end up paying more to condition the indoors.
“Since we recover, reclaim, and recycle refrigerants now, why is there such a pressing need? And why are developing countries given until 2047 to comply?” Michel wrote in an email. “Like a lot of legislation, the rationale is based on hypotheses and computer models with questionable track records. Yet, the legislators feel the need to ‘do something,’ after which they move on, never assessing the damage to businesses and consumers that is done in the here and now.”
The Kigali Amendment was named for the Rwandan capital of Kigali, where the agreement was negotiated in 2016.