Climate breakthrough is another reminder of the stakes in November


With all of the crazy things that have happened — or are happening right now — in the 2016 presidential race, it’s easy to lose track of the issues that really matter. The non-stop flow of groping and assault allegations swirling around Republican Donald Trump, or the hacked emails of aides to Democrat Hillary Clinton, are sensational stories that tend to drown out any serious discussions about weighty topics such as health care reform or job creation. Arguably, no topic has been more ignored during the fall campaign than the environment.

In recent months we’ve seen scientific evidence of record-high carbon levels in the atmosphere, a series of monthly worldwide records for average temperatures, epic melting of Arctic sea ice, and unexpectedly large amounts of flooding in U.S. locales such as Louisiana and North Carolina from tropical storms laden with moisture. The good news, however, is that world leaders, including our own federal government in Washington, understand the importance of these developments and are more committed than ever to taking action. This past week, with virtually zero news coverage here in the United States, the Obama administration joined the vast majority of the world’s nations in talking an important step forward:

KIGALI (Reuters) – Nearly 200 nations have agreed a legally binding deal to cut back on greenhouse gases used in refrigerators and air conditioners, a major move against climate change that prompted loud cheers when it was announced on Saturday.

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.

“While diplomacy is never easy, we can work together to leave our children a planet that is safer, more prosperous, more secure, and more free than the one that was left for us,” the White House said in a statement on the deal. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the deal was “a monumental step forward” as he left the talks in the Rwandan capital of Kigali late on Friday.

Under the pact, developed nations, including much of Europe and the United States, commit to reducing their use of the gases incrementally, starting with a 10 percent cut by 2019 and reaching 85 percent by 2036. Many wealthier nations have already begun to reduce their use of HFCs. Two groups of developing countries will freeze their use of the gases by either 2024 or 2028, and then gradually reduce their use. India, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and the Gulf countries will meet the later deadline.

They refused the earlier date because they have fast-expanding middle classes who want air conditioning in their hot climates, and because India feared damaging its growing industries.

In many ways, this deal is more important than the much-more-talked-about Paris climate accords, because the goals and also the target dates are better defined. And as the news coverage notes, CFCs — without nearly as much hype as pollution from power plants or automobiles — are a significant source of greenhouse-gas pollution. It’s a little disappointing that the larger developing nations didn’t agree to a quicker reduction, but the important thing is progress, forward motion.

As I’ve mentioned here repeatedly in recent weeks, that progress faces a dire threat in the November election. Trump has claimed in the past that global-warming science is a conspiracy cooked up by the Chinese to thwart American industry. Since then, the GOP presidential nominee has questioned the Paris accords and promised to increase the production of coal, the dirtiest fuel around. It’s almost certain that a Trump administration would have no interest in an important climate deal like this new pact on CFCs. Americans truly must understand the serious risks of a Trump presidency as they go to the polls.

Read more about the landmark deal to reduce CFC pollution from the Huffington Post:

Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2016 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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