In a move signaling greater cooperation on climate change, President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced on June 8 that they would work cooperatively to phase down production and use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
HFCs are a family of potent greenhouse gases whose use is growing rapidly worldwide. They are refrigerants developed as substitutes for chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons, two classes of compounds that deplete the stratospheric ozone layer. HFCs do not harm stratospheric ozone, but they are highly efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere. For instance, one molecule of HFC-134a has a global-warming potential that is, over a century, 1,300 times as that of one molecule of CO2, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
A year ago at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, countries struck a nonbinding deal to phase down HFCs. The new agreement between Obama and Xi, unveiled at a retreat for the two presidents in California, lays out a broad course for implementing that global goal. They pledged that the U.S. and China will work together and with other countries to address the growing challenge of human-caused climate change by phasing down manufacture and consumption of HFCs.
In the past, the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, have often been at loggerheads in discussions on curbing greenhouse gas releases. The agreement appears to mark a change in direction.
“The U.S. and China are the two biggest players in the international climate arena, and the fact that they’re talking about cooperation is a pretty big deal,” says Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group.
Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, says the agreement by Obama and Xi gives a confidence boost to those hammering out a new international climate-change treaty. Negotiators from around the globe hope to finish a new accord by 2015 that would include emission limits for all nations that are major releasers of greenhouse gases.