8 Mobilization 3: Learning from the Montreal Protocol

What was the secret to success of the Montreal Protocol? What were the key drivers that made it possible to convince the companies producing ODS to look for alternatives? How did their business develop? Can we draw parallels to the processes in industry and the international community in facing the challenges of CO2 reduction in the 21st century?

In March 1988, DuPont, the world’s largest CFC producer, with 25 percent of the market share, made a startling announcement: it would stop manufacturing CFCs. Although the company took only a modest financial risk – less than 2 percent of its annual earnings came from these products – the decision had profound repercussions in the chemical and CFC-producing industry.

At the time, the Montreal Protocol had been signed by 46 countries but had not yet entered into force. That same month, however, the ozone trends panel published the first report demonstrating that the predictions made by scientists had been substantially accurate, and that there was a measurable decrease in thickness of the ozone layer throughout the atmosphere.

DuPont, long a fierce opponent of the ozone depletion theory, had begun its turnaround two years earlier, in 1986, when it and the Alliance for Responsible CFC Policy, a key industry group, announced their agreement to support global limits on CFC production. DuPont’s dramatic decision to halt CFC production signalled that the beginning of the end had truly arrived.

The DuPont story illustrates the success of the Montreal Protocol process. A number of key ingredients have contributed to this success.

Strong science framed the ozone issue from the start and has been a key pillar of the Protocol’s continuing success. The Protocol called for a review of best available science, environmental, technical and economic information every four years. To aid their decision-making, the Parties established a number of formal expert assessment panels.

Political consensus was pursued and achieved. The largest developed nations, such as the U.S. and members of the European Community, were in accord about the need to commit to addressing ozone depletion in a multi-lateral framework. Industry was assured that a reasonable timeframe for effecting a transition would be granted. Provisions in the Protocol restricting trade with non-Parties contributed to the Protocol’s near universal participation.

At the same time, the Protocol had important elements of flexibility. The concept of differentiated responsibilities between Parties made achievement of the Protocol’s goals more reachable. While the countries agreed to meet specific numerical reduction targets in agreed timeframes, the Protocol is silent on the manner in which those reductions are to be met. This has allowed Parties to meet targets through the implementation approaches that best suited their capacities. Similarly, an “adjustment” provision enables the Parties to use new science to adjust controls on previously agreed ozone depleting substances without waiting for multi-year national ratification process.

In cases of non-compliance a regionally balanced Implementation Committee has evolved an extremely successful system for equitable treatment of all Parties. Most important to developing countries was the notion that costs should be borne principally by the developed countries that had caused most of the problem. This was addressed by the 1990 London Amendment to the Protocol, which included provisions establishing a Multilateral Fund. The Parties were provided with undiluted control over the Fund’s policies. The balanced membership of developed and developing countries on the Executive Committee signaled a large departure from the historic donor-driven nature of funding entities and carried forward the Protocol’s spirit of equality. The Fund evolved into a key driver of success, as the Parties allocated vast sums to ensure compliance.

Important lessons have been learned along the way. The extent of reductions necessary to protect the ozone layer were originally underestimated, requiring further adjustments subsequently. Also underestimated was the ability of industry, faced with the prospect of prohibition, to adapt to change and convert to non-ozone depleting substances. Prognoses were systematically more pessimistic, the costs for industry estimated much higher than they turned out in reality. For example, in 1987, halons were considered so indispensable that the Parties could only agree to freeze their production and consumption at historic levels. Only five years later, however, the Parties agreed to phase them out completely in developed countries by 1994, because industry stepped up to meet the challenges presented by the phaseout.

The successes and  lessons of  the Montreal Protocol are instructive in the context of global climate change discussions. A clear  lesson  is that a multilateral agreement with strong, science-based and legally binding limits is essential.  Faced with bright-line goals governments and industries can adapt, and, history shows, far more readily than might be  initially anticipated or argued. Equally  important are provisions that create incentives for compliance, funding  for  less developed countries and a sense of common commitment and equity.

Story ideas
#8a. To what extent are ODSs still prevalent throughout the world? How long will it take after the final phase-out before there are no CFC-containing products? What are the biggest challenges to reaching this point, keeping in mind that CFCs can remain in the stratosphere for decades if not hundreds of years even after they have been removed from use entirely? What does it mean for ozone depletion, climate change? In other words, a story about how long it will take the world to eliminate a very hazardous and destructive group of substances, even when best efforts are being made and success is being achieved. Where are most of the world’s ODSs coming from – who is producing them, who is consuming them and who is being affected – in other words, exploring possible global inequities along the lines of climate change imbalance (US and Europe producing 40% of CO2?). Ties in with story #4c.

#8b. Similarly, are new threats to the ozone layer emerging from accelerated economic growth in the BRIC (Brasil, Russia, India, China) countries?

#8c. Methyl bromide is still in use for crops: one banned substance that is still poisoning the environment and poisoning consumers.

#8d. To what extent are international aid agencies buying and exporting ODS-containing technologies, such as refrigerators, air conditioners, crop fumigants – to disaster recover areas around the world – e.g., for purposes of reconstructing houses in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Protocol achievements

There are currently a hundred and ninety-one Parties to this treaty, demonstrating a greater degree of global participation than almost any other agreement managed by the UN. By 2005 these countries had collectively phased out more than 95% of the production and consumption of the chemicals controlled by the protocol.

With the assistance of the Multilateral Fund, by December 2005 developing countries have phased out more than 190,625 tonnes of consumption and 116,197 tonnes of production of ozone depleting substances. That represents more than 70 per cent of the total for developing countries. Furthermore plans have already been agreed to reduce more than 80 per cent of the remainder.

Global observations have verified that stratospheric levels of key ODS are going down, and with implementation of the protocol’s provisions, the ozone layer should return to pre-1986 levels by 2065. During the phase-out process many developed and developing countries have met their phase-out targets well before the allotted deadline.

In terms of health benefits, controls implemented under the Montreal Protocol have enabled the global community to avoid millions of fatal skin cancers, and tens of millions of non-fatal skin cancers and cataracts. According to United States estimates, by 2165 more than 6.3 million US skin cancer deaths will have been avoided and that efforts to protect the ozone layer will produce an estimated US$ 4,200 million million health benefit for 1990–2165.

The protocol has also yielded substantial climate benefits. Because ODS also contribute to global warming, cutbacks have resulted in a net reduction in global warming gases of more than 20 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalents. These reductions make the Montreal Protocol one of the world’s prime contributors to the fight against global warming.

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