RANCHO MIRAGE, California (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, agreed on Saturday to cooperate in fighting climate change by cutting the use of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, the White House said a statement.
"The United States and China will work together and with other countries to use the expertise and institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase down the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons," the White House said on the second day of the informal U.S.-China summit in Southern California.
U.S. National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon told reporters the two countries had done most of the work in advance of the California meeting on Friday and Saturday, when the two presidents discussed climate change.
"It was agreed that we have strong joint interests in addressing the climate issue ... from a lot of perspectives including sustainable economic growth," he told reporters.
HFCs are used in refrigerators and air conditioners. They came into wide commercial use to replace ozone-depleting chemicals that are being phased out under the 1987 Montreal Protocol, but they are a big source of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
"The U.S. and China are the two biggest players in the international climate arena, and the fact that they're talking about cooperation is a pretty big deal," said Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund, a U.S. environmental group.
"It's only one step forward, but a very positive one," he said in a written statement.
According to the White House statement, phasing down HFCs worldwide could reduce some 90 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050, an amount equal to about two years' worth of global greenhouse gas emissions.
On Wednesday, leaders of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change in the U.S. Congress wrote a letter to Obama urging him to raise the HFC issue with Xi at their California summit.
The lawmakers warned Obama that with the United States and China responsible for 43 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, "cooperation with China is essential if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change."
They urged Obama to lobby Xi to support a proposal launched in 2009 by the United States, Canada and Mexico to amend the Montreal Protocol to reduce the production and consumption of HFCs. The plan makes funds available for developing countries to reduce their use of HFCs.
Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Paul Eckert; Editing by Peter Cooney and Paul Simao