HFC Reduction Agreement Is Historic, But No Silver Bullet for Climate Change

It’s legally binding and delivers on goals set in Paris, but we need many more of these kinds of agreements in order to meet the 1.5 C target, says Climate Interaction’s Andrew Jones

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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Nearly 200 nations hammered out a legally binding deal to cut back on hydrofluorocarbon, the greenhouse gas used in refrigerators and air conditioners, which can be 10,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Political leaders are calling this historic and a major step against climate change.

Here is what the Head of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy had to say.

GINA MCCARTHY: It’s a historic agreement, it will achieve a great deal, it will keep our kids’ future safe and it’s going to protect public health.

And if you look at it, we are going to achieve somewhere in the order of 80-90% of the emission reductions from these chemicals. It is staggering what this will achieve. We’re talking about an amount that’s comparable to thousands of coal-fired power plant emissions. It’s amazing.”

PERIES: But is this deal, as some scientists are saying, being over-hyped and overestimated in terms of what it will actually achieve to avert extreme climate change?

Joining us now from Asheville, North Carolina is Andrew Jones. Drew is an expert on international climate and energy issues, and Co-Director of Climate Interactive. Climate Interactive is considered one of the most respected in climate modeling worldwide. Drew thank you so much for joining us today.

ANDREW JONES: I’m happy to be here Sharmini. Thank you.

PERIES: So Drew, break it down for us. First is this an agreement that is historic apart form the Paris Agreement in terms of what it’s trying to achieve?

JONES: Absolutely. So this is historic. This is really exciting in that it is a legally binding agreement. The Paris Agreement is voluntary in what countries are actually going to do. So this has real teeth in it so that’s really exciting when it comes to countries trying to come up with actions that we really know will reduce our impact on climate change. So that’s really encouraging. But apart from Paris, not so much. Think of this as delivering upon Paris. Because most of the countries at the Paris Agreement committed to already reducing to HFCs. So the US, the European Union, as part of their pledge to Paris said oh yea, we’re going to address this really nasty greenhouse gas. So it was part of what they were doing and is not really additional to the Paris Agreement.

PERIES: So how significant is it in reducing greenhouse gas emissions? This agreement?

JONES: Well the fallacy of how people think about this is we’re all looking for a silver bullet. We want to look at this and say oh we finally got it figured out. When you look at just the contribution of just HFCs, it’s relatively small. But most anything we do is going to be relatively small. What it’s going to take is actions that add up in many different sectors. So we often look for silver bullet. What we should be looking for is silver buckshot. Many little actions that are going to help us address climate change. This is one or two pieces of buckshot where we need say, another 50 in order to address this problem. Buckshot in many different areas of the economy that I could illuminate. That I could lay out.

PERIES: Now we’re being told that this will have a .5-degree impact in terms of reductions. Is that your assessment?

JONES: So we took a sharp look at that assessment and actually that’s a pretty big exaggeration of what the impact will be. It will be far less than that. But it will be important. We’re still on track where emissions used to be going for temperature to go up 4.5 degrees, we think we’re still headed at 3.5 and this agreement doesn’t really lower the temperature at all. The goal of course is to get well below 2 degrees all the way down to 1.5 if possible. So this really doesn’t bring this .5 but it is a very important agreement.

PERIES: How does this get implemented Drew? Now everybody critiqued the Paris Agreement for now having any teeth, not having any bite, and that it’s not legally binding, but this one is. How is this going to be carried out?

JONES: So it is like the Montreal protocol, a legally binding agreement from all the countries, particularly easy to do because really these gases come from industry. It’s not like carbon dioxide that comes from every sector of the economy. They’re going to have an agreement administered that’s going to make sure that all the industries get rid of this chemical entirely. A lot like the Montreal protocol got rid of cfcs whenever, 1975 is the Montreal Protocol.

PERIES: Now Drew I was just in Indian and as you know in India in some months of the year it gets up to 40 degrees in temperature and it’s really unbearable. But if you look around, the level of smog in a place like Delhi which is the most polluted city in the world, it’s impossible to think that this is going to be rectified any way. I call it the city of smog. Now the air conditioners are on and it is absolutely freezing in some of the hotels and conference areas and things like that. People seem to be completely oblivious to climate change and entire systems and technology have to kick in for these kind of gases to be mitigated. How are they going to carry this out?

JONES: So the biggest, highest leverage area situation like say in Delhi and with air conditioners in these cities, is going to be to get to invest in energy efficiency. So to have incentives such as hotels don’t keep the temperature that low and don’t run their air conditioners that much and therefore they don’t have to burn as much coal and the coal doesn’t create all the air quality issues that you have in a city like Delhi because of burning al the coal in order to make all the electricity. So energy efficiency is going to be number 1. Getting rid of coal is number 2. And along the way, chemicals like HFC’s that we get out of the air conditioners that are being made in the future will make sure that we don’t have as much warming in the future and we don’t have to run the air conditioners quite as much because it’s a little bit cooler.

PERIES: And so we have COP 22 coming up in Marrakesh, next month. What is likely to come out of it and do we really need to meet there at 1.5 or 2-degree climate limit outlined by the Paris Agreement here?

JONES: Yea it’s really exciting. It’s the year after Paris so I think they’re going to be more smiles on faces. I remember back right after Copenhagen in 2010 and we all went down to Cancun, Mexico. It was a tough year. This is going to be a good year because the main theme is implementation. Now that we have these pledges, these INDCs to Paris, how to make sure that all the countries have what they need in order to implement them. The second thing that’s exciting is that all the countries are going to start thinking about mid-century long term strategies. All the countries are going to start putting forward emissions trajectories all the way out to 2050.

The United States and maybe Canada and Mexico and probably Germany are going to announce, we hear, here’s what we’re going to do to 2050. And the United States is going to say, we’re going to reduce our emissions about 80% by 2050. That’s exciting to start hearing about what the long term future will look like. Now what we really need to hear is all those countries coming in to say that we will peak emissions and we will get steeper sooner cuts in emissions out to 2050. That hasn’t happened yet and we’ve really got our ears wide open to say is it going to happen. Are we going to hear long term targets? So implementation and the long term low emissions strategies.

PERIES: Alright Drew, I thank you so much for joining us and we’re going to be looking out for you in Marrakesh coming up.

JONES: Thank you Sharmini, it was nice to meet you and good luck with your work.

PERIES: No good luck with your work on behalf of all of us. Thanks so much for joining us.

JONES: Bye-bye.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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