OSLO (Reuters) - The Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean became the first nation on Tuesday to ratify a 2016 accord to cut the use of powerful factory-made greenhouse gases, saying the survival of the nation was at risk from climate change.
The parliament of the Marshall Islands, with a population of 53,000 vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by melting ice, approved the plan to curb use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that are used in refrigerants and air conditioning.
The decision is a sign of continuing action to limit global warming despite uncertainty about future U.S. climate policies under President Donald Trump. Trump has expressed doubts that man-made greenhouse gases stoke warming.
“My country will not survive without urgent action to cut emissions by every country and every sector of our economies, including HFCs,” said Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine.
“This deal is good for our people, the planet, and the profits of those that follow in our footsteps,” she said in a statement, which said the country was the first to ratify the HFC agreement worked out in Kigali, Rwanda, in October 2016.
The Kigali pact, agreed by almost 200 nations including the United States, will phase down the use of HFCs, which can be 10,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere.
It will enter into legal force on Jan. 1, 2019, assuming at least 20 nations have formally ratified by that date.
The Marshall Islands was also the first to ratify the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which seeks a radical shift from fossil fuels this century to help avert heat waves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels.
Andrew Light, of the U.S.-based World Resources Institute think-tank, said U.S. companies such as Honeywell and DuPont had already developed new chemicals that are less environmentally harmful than HFCs.
“It makes sense economically for the United States,” he said of the HFC pact. Trump has not publicly expressed his opinion about the HFC agreement that was strongly favored by former U.S. President Barack Obama to limit global warming.
Last year, almost 200 nations, ranging from China and OPEC nations to Pacific island states, reaffirmed after Trump’s election victory that action on climate change was an “urgent duty”. The Paris Agreement has now been ratified by 132 nations.
HFCs were introduced as substitutes for chlorofluorocarbons, which were damaging the ozone layer that protects the planet from ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer.
But scientists later found that HFCs, while better for the ozone layer, were stoking global warming.
Reporting by Alister Doyle