Former premier of China, Deng Xiaoping, talking about communism, capitalism and China’s efforts to address poverty, once said that he didn’t mind what color the cat was, as long as it caught mice. In that vein we’d like to applaud the ingenuity of the folks in the State Department in seeking ways to catch the carbon mouse without employing either Congressional or UNFCCC colored cats.
The latest example of this is the reported US-China agreement June 8 on a path to eliminating HydroFluoroCarbons (HFCs). These chemicals became essential ingredients of refrigerators and AC units once the Montreal Protocol banned CFCs. HFCs are incredibly potent greenhouse gases – as much as 24,000 times as damaging as CO2. The two governments agreed to work within the Montreal protocol framework to phase the gases out, thus (hopefully) ending a standoff between the developed and developing countries in that forum, and effectively taking the issue out of the already overloaded UNFCCC agenda.
This is not the first example of the U.S. seeking alternative venues to the UNFCCC. Despite heaping criticism in 2007-8 on the Bush-era Major Economies Forum designed to coordinate polices among the largest global emitters, the incoming administration recognized its potential value and essentially kept it on. Then in 2012, the U.S. worked with a number of European countries to establish an initiative on methane and black carbon, again outside the UNFCCC mire.
In all of these cases we will have to see whether these head of state level agreements amount to much more than photo-ops. If they do, the U.S. and other countries will have begun to establish alternative ways to make progress on GHG issues without walking away entirely from the UNFCCC process. Until and unless that particular mousetrap starts to catch some mice we can expect to see more multicolored cats at work.