Editorial: Don’t let Congress block historic climate change deal

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Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech in favor of an agreement to severely limit the use of chemicals called HFCs at a global conference in Kigali, Rwanda, on Oct. 14, 2016. (AP Photo)

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Just last weekend, the news was terrific: The United States had negotiated a historic deal with almost 200 other countries to take a dramatic step to slow the dangerous overheating of our planet.

But then, in the last few days, the bad news followed: Contrary to what the Obama administration at first suggested, the Kigali accord could require a two-thirds vote of approval from the U.S. Senate, where Republicans in the pockets of the coal and oil industries pretend climate change is not caused by human activity or is even a real problem. The anti-science obstructionists threaten to rear their heads again.

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If Americans needed one more reason to vote against Donald Trump for president, this is it. Trump’s uninformed dismissal of the threat of climate change and other environmental issues strongly suggests he would not pursue American ratification of the Kigali accord. But even if Hillary Clinton is elected president, it could be blocked by a Republican Senate.

Please, readers, vote accordingly this fall.

The Kigali accord, the result of seven years of negotiations, would sharply cut the worldwide use of hydrofluorocarbons, the chemical coolants used in air-conditioners and refrigerators. HFCs are a small percentage of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but as the New York Times reports, they are a “supercharged greenhouse gas,” with 1,000 times the heat-trapping potency of carbon dioxide. Wealthier nations have agreed to cut the use of HFCs relatively quickly, while poorer and hotter countries, such as India, are to be given more time.

HFCs would be replaced by other chemicals, either existent or in development, which could be a boon to chemical makers.

Because the deal is an amendment to a 1987 environmental regulation pact, the Montreal Protocol, which was ratified by the Senate during the Reagan administration, the Obama administration has argued there is no need for another Senate vote. But American experts on international environmental law, according to the Guardian, believe a vote is in fact required. The State Department, taking no formal position, is studying the matter.

But do such agreements make any difference? Yes. The Montreal Protocol was agreed upon at a time when chemicals called CFCs were destroying the earth’s protective ozone layer. A hole in the ozone layer had opened up in the Antarctic. The Montreal Protocol limited the use of CFCs — the stuff used as a propellant for hair spray, spray deodorant and the like — and today the use of CFCs and related chemicals has been almost eradicated. And the hole in the ozone layer is shrinking.

Secretary of State John Kerry last week called the Kigali accord — named for the city in Rwanda where the deal was struck — “the biggest thing” that can be done to check global warming “in one giant swoop.” It would, according to the New York Times, lead to the reduction of the equivalent of 70 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which is about two times the carbon pollution produced annually around the world.

Regardless of the results of the November elections, Congress can no longer turn its back on the reality and danger of climate change. How you vote on Nov. 8, or earlier, will have something to say about that.

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