It didn’t add up to attention-seeking politics, which too often dominate the headlines, but President Joe Biden quietly took an important step toward dealing with climate change last week. And he did so with support from Mitch McConnell and 20 other Senate Republicans.
Biden signed the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The amendment amounts to an international climate treaty and passed the Senate by a 69-27 vote. Calling the signing “a historic, bipartisan win for American manufacturing and global climate action,” Biden added, “my administration is phasing down super-polluting chemicals so the U.S. can lead the clean technology markets of the future and unlock thousands of new jobs.”
While the treaty can help mitigate climate change, it also serves to demonstrate what normal government looks like. Washington, D.C., has been bereft of normalcy in recent years, to the point that any progress is notable.
For example, the treaty was ratified by the Senate. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution states the president “shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.”
Over the past several decades, Congress has gradually ceded its power to the executive branch, allowing governance by presidential fiat under the guise of executive orders rather than compromise forged by elected representatives. This trend begins with deference to the regulatory state and ranges all the way to a president’s power to engage in war, comprising what columnist George Will refers to as “Congress’s modern eagerness to diminish itself.”
During the Obama administration, the United States joined the Paris Climate Agreement, a broad climate change initiative. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the pact, and Biden had the nation rejoin once he was in office. In truth, these decisions should be up to the legislative branch in order to better reflect the will of the public rather than the whims of whoever is in the White House.
That being said, it is instructive to examine the impact of the Kigali Amendment and to note that climate initiatives require thousands of small mitigation efforts that add up to profound change. As Vox.com explains: “On the surface, the Kigali Amendment may not seem like it has anything to do with the climate. But in fact, it may be one of the biggest steps to limit warming of the planet.”
The measure requires participating nations to phase down production and use of hydrofluorocarbons, also known as HFCs, by 85 percent over the next 14 years. HFCs are man-made organic compounds typically found in air conditioning and refrigerants and are considered a major driver of global warming. More than 130 nations — including China, India and Russia — have formally ratified the agreement.
It is appropriate that the amendment is pinned to one of the largest environmental successes in global history. Signed in 1987, the Montreal Protocol was an aggressive response to the growing danger of a diminishing ozone layer. By phasing out chemicals regarded as harmful to the atmospheric layer, the international agreement helped restore the ozone. The U.S. State Department estimates that by 2065, the Montreal Protocol will have prevented 2.3 million skin cancer deaths.
Adding the Kigali Amendment to the agreement is a worthy endeavor. And it demonstrates that progress is, indeed, possible in a fractured Washington, D.C.