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The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is the international environmental agreement designed to protect the stratospheric ozone layer, which shields the earth’s surface from radiation in the ultraviolet spectrum. An increase in the intensity of UV-B rays reaching the surface may augment skin cancer rates in humans, decrease plankton production in the oceans, and negatively affect agricultural production throughout the world.
The Montreal Protocol, as it is often referred to in short, provided the framework for phasing out the production of the main ozone depleting chemicals (chlorofluorocarbons [CFCs], halons, carbon tetrachloride, methyl chloroform, hydrofluorocarbons, and methyl bromide). These chemicals were widely used as refrigerants, coolants, aerosol propellants, and industrial solvents.
CFCs were invented in 1928 by Thomas Midgley, Jr. (who also invented the lead additive to gasoline) and were applied widely due to their low costs of production and desirable chemical properties. Global annual reported production of CFCs rose from 544 tons in 1934 to 812,522 metric tons at the height of their use. In 1974, Mario J. Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland published a research paper highlighting the threat of CFCs to the ozone layer in the stratosphere. Their testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives in December 1974 led to a review by the National Academy of Sciences that confirmed the scientific validity of their CFC hypothesis.
In March 1978 the United States, followed by Canada, Norway, and Sweden, banned the use of nonessential aerosols. A number of international scientific conferences were held to study the consequences of ozone depletion. Under the leadership of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), an ad hoc working group began to negotiate a convention on research, monitoring, and data exchange in 1982.
In March 1985, 43 nations convened in Vienna to complete work on the first international ozone convention, which was later titled the “Vienna Convention.” This nonbinding convention requested participating nations to “take appropriate measures” to protect the ozone layer, but more importantly called for renegotiations for a binding agreement.
Two months later, British scientists published data that showed a seasonal “hole” in the ozone layer over Antarctica. The first round of negotiations for a binding protocol were held in Geneva in December 1986, and after two more rounds of negotiations in Vienna and Geneva, the final version of the protocol was opened for signature in Montreal on September 16, 1987. The document is widely recognized as setting a precedent for preventive instead of corrective environmental action on a global scale.
The Montreal Protocol is considered by many as “perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date” (Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations). What ultimately led to the tremendous success of the negotiations for the final agreement is debatable. The negotiations were expertly directed and greatly influenced by the executive director of UNEP, Dr. Mostafa Tolba.
As Richard Benedick, the chief negotiator for the United States, argues in his seminal account of the negotiations, there were seven components that made a consensus possible. First, the powerful scientific discovery of the underlying chemical process was supplemented by successful collaboration between scientists and policy makers. Second, powerful education campaigns informed public opinion and governments, which resulted in changing negotiation positions for several countries. Third, the role of a multilateral institution (UNEP) in shaping consensus reflected a great degree of sensitivity to individual parties’ interests. Fourth, the progressive policies by the major producer of ozone depleting substances, the United States, combined with its central role in international research and leading the way by adopting voluntary controls, provided a strong push toward international consensus. Germany was essential in solidifying the European Union’s support of the agreement. Fifth, the involvement of industry and environmental groups played a major role in informing the public and negotiators about the costs and benefits from reduction in CFC production. Sixth, the process leading up to the final negotiations broke the larger issue into manageable pieces (e.g., scientific versus economic issues), which proved to be crucial in obtaining consensus. Finally, the Montreal Protocol has flexible components that allow its adaptation to new scientific and economics findings.
At least 11 countries, making up at least twothirds of global consumption of the controlled substances, had to ratify the treaty for it to go into effect. This relatively low requirement was met at the earliest allowable date, January 1, 1989, with 30 parties responsible for 89 percent of global consumption having ratified the treaty. It has been amended five times since 1987 (London, 1990; Copenhagen, 1992; Vienna, 1995; Montreal, 1997; Beijing, 1999). By 2006, there were 189 parties to the Montreal Protocol.
The original text specified cutbacks be made relative to 1986 levels. A baseline year in the past was chosen to minimize the possibility of strategic production behavior. The original schedule required developing countries to maintain emissions at 1986 levels until 1992, followed by a 20 percent reduction from 1993 to 1998 and 50 percent reductions by 2000. The 1990 amendments moved the 50 percent reductions up to 1996, followed by a complete phase-out by the year 2000. The 1992 Copenhagen amendments specified a complete phase-out by 1996, which was the schedule the United States had adopted in the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. The speeding up of the phase-out process was partially motivated by new evidence of the impacts of the regulated substances, but also by the availability of good cheap substitutes. It is generally thought that United States producers were a step ahead of their European counterparts in developing substitutes, which were revealed at a trade fair in 1988. DuPont announced a phase-out of CFC production six months after the signing of the protocol, in March 1988.
Developing countries involved in the negotiations were concerned about regulating products whose benefits embodied the lifestyle their growing populations aspired to obtain. In order to encourage developing countries to sign and ratify the agreement, concessions were made. In the 1987 document, Article 5 specified that any developing country with per capita consumption below 300 grams on the date or within 10 years of entry into force may delay the encoded reductions by 10 years, provided it doesn’t exceed the 300 grams per capita threshold.
While the original document included language encouraging direct transfer of technology and aid from developed to developing countries, only the 1990 London amendments established an actual funding mechanism. The Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol was designed to assist Article 5 countries in meeting the reductions. As of April 2006, over U.S. $2 billion in contributions to the fund have been made.
To prevent the leakage of production to nonparticipating nations, the protocol banned trade in substances covered under the agreement with nonparties. Finally, the parties identified some essential uses for the regulated substances, considered necessary for “the health and safety of society” and for which there were no feasible alternatives. These substances were exempt from the treaty, but the provision is subject to annual review.
Overall, global production of CFC-11 and CFC-12 has gone from 748,511 metric tons in the baseline year 1986 to 15,681 tons in 2003, which is a 98 percent reduction in annual production.
- Scott Barrett, Global Environmental Diplomacy (Oxford University Press, 2003);
- Richard Benedick, Ozone Diplomacy (Harvard University Press, 1998);
- Mostafa K. Tolba, Global Environmental Diplomacy (MIT Press, 1998);
- United Nations Environment Programme, “The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer,” www.uneorg.