After months of deliberation, representatives from over 170 nations reached an agreement on Saturday Oct. 15 to phase out the use of the potent greenhouse gas hydrofluorocarbon as a coolant in appliances and machinery. This agreement should be seen as the gold standard of environmental legislation, as opposed to the Paris Climate Agreement that failed to significantly address taking real action against climate change.
According to The New York Times, HFCs are chemicals used as coolants in many air-conditioners and refrigerators. Once thought to be safe, scientific studies now show that they are a greenhouse gas 1,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Scientists warn that these long-lasting atmospheric chemicals could result in the Earth’s warming by 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. That may not seem like much, but it makes a huge difference to our fragile global ecosystem.
World leaders have finally heeded scientists’ warnings and agreed to mandate the United States and other wealthy nations to cease production of HFCs by 2018, and nations in warmer climates such as India and Pakistan to cease production by 2028. Overall, the agreement is a robust, ambitious and—most importantly—legally binding plan to tackle a major cause of global warming. This is the kind of forceful, decisive action needed to take place to prevent global warming disasters.
This policy is in stark contrast to the supposedly monumental 2015 Paris Agreement, which set forth recommendations for countries around the world to reduce their carbon emissions in the coming decades.
The agreement set up a plan for each nation to reduce their carbon output, while recognizing that poorer nations would have a slower transition to more expensive renewable energies. It’s a great plan in theory, but it is not enforceable—nor does it propose a bold enough solution fit for the immensity of the environmental problems we face.
The Paris Agreement was an important first step for getting the world on the same page when it comes to climate change, but it did little to solve any real problems. With no incentives for nations to transition to a renewable energy economy—compared to massive economic incentives for using inexpensive fossil fuels—there is little possibility that the world will move to a green economy without explicit legislation.
We need leaders to bring forth serious, binding agreements similar to the HFC policy to stop the planet from reaching a dangerously warm temperature. It’s undoubtedly going to be difficult and expensive to move away from fossil fuels, but the cost of global warming is far greater when one considers coastal property loss due to flooding, crop failures due to droughts and a host of other environmental consequences. Of course, those economic losses pale in comparison to the level of human suffering climate change could create.
Most of the world now recognizes the serious threat climate change poses to humanity but are hesitant to act firmly to stop it. Dire consequences are at stake for a planet already on the brink of a major ecological collapse. World leaders took an important step in phasing out HFCs, and now we must demand them to take similar action to phase out fossil fuels for good.