KIGALI • In a major step against climate change, nearly 200 nations, including Singapore, have hammered out a legally binding deal to cut back on greenhouse gases used in refrigerators and air- conditioners.
The deal, which includes the world's two biggest economies, the United States and China, divides countries into three groups with different deadlines to reduce the use of factory-made hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases, which can be 10,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as greenhouse gases.
A quick reduction in HFCs could help slow climate change, avoiding perhaps 0.5 deg C of a projected rise in average temperatures by 2100, scientists say.
"It's a monumental step forward," US Secretary of State John Kerry said as he left the talks in the Rwandan capital of Kigali.
As Rwanda's Minister for Natural Resources, Mr Vincent Biruta, began spelling out the terms of the deal soon after sunrise yesterday, applause from negotiators who had been up all night drowned out his words.
What are HFCs?
Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are chemical coolants used in air-conditioners and refrigerators.
They were introduced in the 1990s to replace chemicals that had been found to erode the ozone layer, but turned out to be catastrophic for global warming.
While they represent just a small percentage of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, some types of hydrofluorocarbons are 10,000 times more powerful at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. They can also last years in the air.
According to the Berkeley National Laboaratory, air-conditioning is the cause of the largest growth in HFCs - and the world is likely to have another 700 million air-conditioners by 2030.
Last year's Paris climate agreement aims to keep global warming below 2 deg C compared with pre-industrial levels. But continued use of HFCs could prove a serious stumbling block to attaining the goal.
Dr Amy Khor, Singapore's Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, said the country is working towards phasing down the use of HFCs, taking into consideration the availability of substitutes and alternative technologies.
Under the pact, developed nations, including much of Europe and the US, must slash their use of HFCs by 10 per cent by 2019 from 2011-2013 levels, and then by 85 per cent by 2036.
A second group of developing countries, including China and African nations, should launch the transition in 2024. A reduction of 10 per cent from 2020-2022 levels must be achieved by 2029, to be extended to 80 per cent by 2045.
A third group of developing countries - including India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Gulf nations - must begin the process in 2028 and reduce emissions by 10 per cent by 2032 from 2024-2026 levels, and then by 85 per cent by 2047. These nations want to begin the transition later because they have fast-expanding middle classes who want air-conditioning in their hot climates. India also feared that the move could damage its growing industries.
Singapore is classified as a developing country under the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty aimed at stopping the depletion of the ozone layer, which shields the planet from damaging ultraviolet rays.
The latest deal binding 197 nations crowns a wave of measures this month to fight climate change. Last week, the 2015 Paris Agreement to curb climate-warming emissions passed its required threshold to enter into force after India, Canada and the European Parliament ratified it. But unlike the Paris Agreement, the Kigali deal is legally binding, has specific timetables and includes an agreement by rich nations to help poor countries adapt their technology.
The HFC talks build on the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which succeeded in phasing out chlorofluorocarbons, widely used then in refrigeration and aerosols.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE