On September 21, the U.S. Senate voted 69-27 to ratify the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, becoming the 138th party (the 137th country plus the EU) to do so.

In ratifying the international agreement, which entered into force on January 1, 2019, the U.S., as a developed country, has committed to phasing down the production and use of HFCs by 85% by 2036.

While the U.S. is already pursuing that commitment through the implementation of the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, formal ratification makes the U.S.’s compliance with the agreement legally binding.

The Kigali Amendment and the AIM Act support the uptake of “HFC alternatives” like CO2 (R744), propane (R290) and ammonia/NH3 (R717).

“Ratifying the Kigali Amendment will allow us to lead the clean technology markets of the future by innovating and manufacturing those technologies here in America,” said U.S. President Joe Biden. “American companies are already leading on innovation and manufacturing of HFC alternatives [but] ratification will spur the growth of manufacturing jobs, strengthen U.S. competitiveness and advance the global effort to combat the climate crisis.”

According to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (Democrat from New York), the ratification of the Kigali Amendment is a “win-win-win: a win for U.S. jobs, a win for U.S. investment and a win for U.S. leadership to protect the planet.”

“This is a historic bipartisan victory,” said Avipsa Mahapatra, Climate Campaign Lead at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an international NGO. “It’s been long overdue for the United States to unequivocally join the rest of the world in eliminating these man-made super pollutants. However, the real work ahead is actually realizing the promised climate benefits of the Kigali Amendment through robust implementation and enforcement.”

“HFCs are flowing into the atmosphere from cooling systems every day, and companies and governments must take ambitious action to accelerate moving to HFC-free alternatives that protect the climate,” she added. “We have an obligation and an opportunity to transition the cooling industry out of its planet- damaging past.”

NatRef industry support

HVAC&R manufacturers welcomed the country’s ratification of the Kigali Amendment, noting its importance for domestic manufacturing and climate action.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Johnson Controls, a manufacturer of natural refrigerant-based refrigeration and chiller systems, has said it is “pleased” with the move.

“As a global technology leader and air-conditioning and heating technology manufacturer in the United States, 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, the manufacturer’s Vice President and Chief Sustainability and External Relations Officer. “Just as important, this amendment also supports our commitment to a more sustainable future by accelerating the transition to lower global warming potential refrigerants.”

U.S. OEM Carrier, which makes CO2-based commercial refrigeration, also applauded the U.S.’s formal commitment to the HFC phase down.

“[We] led the industry in phasing out ozone-depleting refrigerants more than 25 years ago and [have] been innovating products with low global warming refrigerants in the spirit of the Kigali agreement for a decade,” said Carrier. “We will continue to invent and partner with innovators to deliver sustainable solutions that meet or exceed this agreement.”

According to Carrier, it has committed to helping its customers reduce their carbon footprint by more than 1GT by 2030, and plans to invest more than US$2 billion to develop “healthy, safe, sustainable and intelligent building and cold chain solutions that incorporate sustainable design principles and reduce lifecycle impacts.”

Growing pressure on China

On the same day that the Senate voted to ratify the Kigali Amendment, it also unanimously voted in favor of the “Sullivan-Lee amendment,” which declares that “China is not a developing country and should not be treated by the UN or other intergovernmental organization as such.”

As part of this move, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, must propose the removal of China’s designation as a developing nation under the Kigali Amendment.

With its designation as a developing country, China – which ratified the Kigali Amendment in June 2021 – is obligated to phase down its production and use of HFCs by 80% by 2045.

According to Senator Mike Lee (Republican from Utah), after whom the Sullivan-Lee amendment is named, “treating China as a developing country under the treaty gives it an unfair advantage in the existing HFC market [and] allows China to continue production and undercut the HFC market well into the 2040s.”

As the world’s leading manufacturer of room air conditioners, producing around 70% of all units and covering around 22% of installed cooling capacity worldwide, China’s HFC phasedown schedule could have a significant global impact.

“We celebrate this moment, but also recognize that the job is not done. We urge the U.S. and other countries [of] the Montreal Protocol to continue moving the dialogue towards the future acceleration or a deeper phase-down in these super-pollutant chemicals,” said Christina Starr, Senior Policy Analyst at the EIA.

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