The Montreal Protocol: Solid contributions in the fight against climate change
December 17, 2013  //  By:   //  Blog Post, Featured  //  No Comment

Recent analysis has called attention to the positive effects of the Montreal Protocol in the fight against global warming. The treaty’s formal purpose is to save the ozone layer from destruction due to CFCs in the atmosphere. It was successfully negotiated and adopted in the 1980s by the vast majority of nations. It is considered one of the most successful global environmental treaties, as it integrates public and private concerns in ways that have facilitated its smooth operation for more than two decades.

Back in the 1970s, two scientists – Mario J. Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland- discovered that a specific group of commonly used industrial chemicals represented a threat to the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, which protects the planet and its people from ultraviolet radiation. Chlorofluorocarbons, used in refrigerators and air-conditioners and as propellants in products like hair spray, were drifting into the atmosphere, causing deterioration and thinning of the ozone layer. The destruction of the ozone layer represented a global environmental emergency, including tangible consequences like an increase in skin cancer, damage to crops, and many other problems that were already being measured and acknowledged by various governments at the time of the treaty. Contrary to expectations, the Reagan Administration strongly backed the idea of a global treaty to regulate this issue. The Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer entered into force on January 1st, 1989, and since then has been used to phase out nearly 100 dangerous gases.

Recently, a study from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico UNAM suggested that the slowdown in climate change during the past 15 years is directly associated, at least in part, with the success of the Montreal Protocol. Evidence also suggest that the protocol’s contribution to limit global warming has been more than what the Kyoto Protocol has achieved. However, additional action is required.

The gases phased out under the Montreal Protocol are being replaced by another set of chemicals, hydrofluorocarbons. These do not have effects on the ozone layer, but are potent contributors to global warming. In particular, small island states are suggesting an amendment to the Montreal Protocol that would phase out the worst chemicals in this group in favor of new ones that are safer for the climate. However, industrial countries do not support this idea because of the use of hydrofluorocarbons in some of their most important industrial activities. If a deal is achieved, projections suggest substantial climate benefits in the next century.

About the Author :

Natalia Escobar-Pemberthy joined the GEG team in September 2011as a research assistant for the UMass Center of Governance and Sustainability. Natalia graduated from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2005 and its currently a PhD Student in the Global Governance and Human Security program at UMass Boston

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