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In Vienna, Kerry Talks Dangers of Climate Change

European Union Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete (L) welcomes US Secretary of State John Kerry for talks to reduce hydrofluorocarbons under the Montreal Protocol at Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria, July 22, 2016.

In a warm conference center with air conditioning barely chilling the air, ministers and high-level participants from the Montreal Protocol parties gathered Friday in Vienna to try to make progress scaling back the use of a class of chemical compounds that contribute to global warming.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that climate change is as dangerous as, if not more than, the threat posed by violent extremism. Efforts to phase down greenhouse gases, he said, could “literally save life on the planet itself."

Kerry is backing an amendment to phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that is expected to be adopted later this year.

“In Paris, the world set the goal of limiting the Earth’s warming to well below two degrees Celsius,” Kerry said Friday. "Amending the Montreal Protocol to cut HFC use could help us avoid a full half-degree. The magnitude of this single action is difficult to overstate."

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are used primarily in air conditioning and refrigeration, and are considered to be potent greenhouse gases that play a major role in driving global climate change. An agreement to phase down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol would significantly reduce the level of carbon dioxide emissions that enter the atmosphere over the next several decades.

A senior State Department official said the targeted reduction amount is equivalent to the emissions of about 300 coal-fired power plants annually.

According to estimates by the Climate Action Network, an environmental advocacy network of more than 1,100 non-governmental organizations, it also could prevent up to half a degree Celsius of global warming by the end of this century.

Experts are urging that the talks in Vienna set the stage for an ambitious phase-down scheduled for both developed and developing countries.

Developing countries could get financial assistance from the Multilateral Fund, established under the Montreal Protocol framework, to aid the implementation of phase-outs of ozone-depleting chemicals over time.

“Additional funding for countries that need it through the Multilateral Fund — all of which will help promote energy efficient technologies that use climate-friendly alternatives to HFCs,” said Kerry.

Nations that previously have blocked progress, such as Saudi Arabia, are showing signs of cooperation.

A senior State Department official told reporters there is “momentum” and “most parties have come here [Vienna] to work constructively toward an amendment.”

A June 2016 study in the journal Science credited the Montreal Protocol with helping to close the hole in the ozone layer, and the Montreal Protocol’s scientific assessment panel estimates that follow-through on the protocol may enable the ozone layer to return to its pre-industrial level by sometime between 2060 and 2075.

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