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The Catalytic Converter is installed to reduce harmful emissions that are typically released from the vehicle's exhaust. Actually, this has been required by law since 1975 to have this part installed in all vehicles produced in the United States. All this to support an effort in reducing negative effects of air pollution.
Before the requirement that all U.S. cars have a converter, cars were emitting noxious gases including carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide. This was contributing greatly to the smog problems. These gases are also responsible for respiratory problems and cause extensive damage to plant life.
Basically the Catalytic Converter uses metallic catalysts that cause a chemical reaction with the gases, converting them and making them much less harmful. The Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency have been very active in improving converters, making them even more effective every year.
The criticism is that the Catalytic Converter of today is contributing to global warming. This is certainly a valid complaint and is a top priority of the Clean Air Act. The goal is to update the Catalytic Converter so that it continues to reduce emissions while not contributing to global warming. Each year more progress is made to achieve this goal.