Although he rarely gets the credit he deserves, President Ronald Reagan is responsible for pushing through the most successful environmental treaty of all time. That 1987 treaty, the Montreal Protocol, began phasing out the production and use of ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were harming our life-sustaining atmosphere.
Earlier this year, NASA scientists confirmed through satellite observations, that the Montreal Protocol is indeed healing the ozone hole over Antarctica. At its current rate of healing, the hole should completely vanish in about 50 years.
That is great news. However, another family of substances have been found to harm the atmosphere. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which have replaced CFC-based refrigerants, are potent greenhouse gases — over a thousand times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Fortunately, American manufacturers saw this coming. They have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to develop next-generation replacements that protect the ozone layer without warming our climate.
In 2016, this advance prompted the U.S. and other signatories of the protocol to draft and approve the Kigali Amendment, which will phase out HFCs over time and open the market to these improved replacements. That global market for products using these compounds is projected to surpass $1 trillion over the next decade.
By ratifying the Kigali Amendment, the U.S. can give American companies a market advantage, and enable U.S. technology to lead this global transition. Ratification is all the more critical because companies from Asia and Europe want to develop and push their own technologies.
The parties to this most successful treaty gathered this week in Quito, Ecuador, and they want to know where the U.S. stands, and whether U.S. industry will again lead the way. The problem is that President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' Two House Democrats announce they won't seek reelection DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane' MORE has not yet decided whether to support U.S. ratification of the Kigali Amendment.
This is not a hard call. How often does one get a chance to boost American manufacturing, reduce the trade imbalance, create more than 30,000 jobs, improve energy efficiency and benefit the climate all at the same time?
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, Business Roundtable, and leading U.S. air conditioning and refrigeration companies all strongly support U.S. ratification this amendment.
In their letter to Trump, the HVAC and refrigeration industries noted that Kigali ratification would provide “a head-start for American industry in the global race to provide the world with state-of-the-art products.”
Since its inception, the genius of the Montreal Protocol has been its ability to foster innovation and leverage market forces to the benefit of both industry and the environment. In addition, by gradually phasing out problem chemicals, the treaty not only helps industry, it also protects consumers.
This is equally true with the Kigali Amendment, as the transition from HFCs is a “phase-down” that does not impact existing equipment. The transition only occurs as old equipment is naturally replaced.
Despite overwhelming support from industry and the bipartisan support of lawmakers, a few misinformed ideologues — who seem to oppose any policy that would protect our climate — have knee-jerkily attacked Kigali. Trump should follow Reagan’s example and ignore such imprudence.
When faced with mounting concern about ozone depletion, Reagan weighed the facts. He listened to scientists and to industry. He also heard from a number of naysayers within his administration, who opposed U.S. participation in global efforts to reduce CFC emissions.
Reagan chose to act. He became the world’s first head of state to personally approve a national negotiating policy on ozone protection.
Reagan was forward thinking enough to recognize that prudent action was needed to safeguard our atmosphere, and smart enough to know that U.S. chemical and manufacturing industries, like air conditioning and refrigeration, were well positioned to provide the world with CFC replacements.
Reagan also understood the importance of U.S. leadership in shaping international policy and fostering economic growth here at home.
Thanks to Reagan, we have all seen this movie before.
The Montreal Protocol has prompted two previous fluorocarbon transitions. Both times U.S. industry used its innovative prowess and vision to capture much of the global market. The Kigali Amendment will help ensure the same U.S. advantage in this next transition.
The Montreal Protocol exists, U.S. businesses have thrived, and the ozone layer is healing, all thanks to Reagan’s stewardship ethic and genuinely conservative leadership.
If Trump is somehow still unsure about the Kigali Amendment, he should simply ask, what would Reagan do?
David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship.