The Senate ratified a climate change treaty with a strong bipartisan vote on Wednesday. It phased out hydrofluorocarbons and was unusual in that most climate measures were struggling to gain support from Republicans.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Yesterday, the United States Senate did something weird. A bipartisan group of lawmakers voted to ratify an international climate treaty. The Kigali Amendment formally commits the US to curbing the use of potent greenhouse gases found in common household appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners.
NPR’s Laura Benshoff has been investigating the politics of the vote and whether or not it shows a path for bipartisan climate action. Hello Laura.
LAURA BENSHOFF, BYLINE: Good afternoon.
SHAPIRO: We hardly ever talk about something like this, so tell us how we got here.
BENSHOFF: It’s true.
SHAPIRO: It’s been a long road.
BENSHOFF: It’s been a long road. Major players have been working on this for over a decade. You know, we’ve known for some time that hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, the ones you mentioned in refrigerators and other gases, were contributing to climate change. And they are used so often that, globally, there are tons of opportunities for them to leak. And when they do, they are thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere.
And so the US is home to some big manufacturers of products that use these gases. And they could have seen this problem in a couple of ways. They could have said, we don’t care, don’t make us change. But instead, enough companies looked around, saw that other countries were making progress in phasing out HFCs, and said, we want to stay competitive. We want the rest of the world to continue to buy products made in the USA and joining this treaty will help. And indeed, legislation was passed in late 2020 under former President Donald Trump to do what the Kigali Amendment requires, even without having ratified it.
SHAPIRO: I admit I was surprised yesterday when I saw that the Senate count was 69 to 27. That’s more bipartisanship than we’ve seen in almost anything, let alone a climate treaty. How did he get so much Republican support when most other climate proposals split sharply along party lines?
BENSHOFF: There is a big factor. It wasn’t just climate friendly; it was business-friendly. The manufacturers, the Chamber of Commerce, they all lobbied for this to happen. I spoke with Kevin Fay, CEO of a coalition of manufacturers. And he said these industries have already spent billions of dollars developing the next generation of refrigeration technology, and they want to be able to sell it where demand is greatest.
KEVIN FAY: Air conditioning and refrigeration are in extraordinarily high demand. Markets outside the United States, particularly in developing countries like China, India, Brazil, were projected to more than double in the next decade.
BENSHOFF: So it’s about maintaining a global trade advantage for US companies.
SHAPIRO: What is the most important lesson here? Is there a way to translate this into other climate initiatives on the agenda?
BENSHOFF: This was an unusual case. Many climate challenges that the United States has struggled to address are much more complicated. There are winners and then there are some mighty losers. So let’s take electric cars, for example. If you get rid of gasoline-burning cars, you’re basically elevating the companies that build electric ones and supply electricity over the companies that produce fossil fuels. And that is politically complicated.
And that’s why you see climate actions being passed along party lines, like the climate spending bill that was passed, and budget reconciliation, only by Democrats. There were no Republican votes. So while many of the policies in that law will support industries and give money to GOP-led states, GOP lawmakers did not vote for it. So I think the big lesson from yesterday’s bipartisan vote is this: If you can show that a policy isn’t just a climate win, if you can line it up with a clear economic win, you just might see bipartisan support.
SHAPIRO: That’s Laura Benshoff from NPR. Thanks for the explanation.
BENSHOFF: Thank you very much.
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