One of the swan-song-projects that I undertook when I was leading the global capacity building activities in United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Paris was rather out-of-box.
Widely known as the most successful global multilateral environmental treaty to date, it is always conceived-and even derided by some- as the treaty that is narrow in scope and small in its reach as compared to climate change treaty. Indeed, the Montreal Protocol was solely aimed to eliminate production and consumption of ozone depleting chemicals to the Protection of the earth’s protective shield called stratospheric ozone layer. As per the 2014 Scientific Assessment Panel of more than 300 scientists from all over the world convened by UNEP and WMO, the fast depleting ozone concentration is now back on recovery path. But many even demean the success of the Montreal Protocol by shrugging-comments that ‘no-wonder-the-success-as-it-was narrow-in-scope-anyway!’
Scientific papers started appearing in 2008-2009 in the prestigious science journals about the climate benefits derived from the implementation of the Montreal Protocol. These benefits were not deliberately aimed under the treaty, but they were unintended consequences of the successful implementation of the Montreal Protocol, simply because CFCs and some of the other ozone depleting chemicals were also powerful and potentially much harmful Green House Gases (GHGs). These accumulated climate benefits due to permanent reduction of GHGs under the Montreal Protocol crossed staggering 100 Giga Tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2010- a huge sum compared to the global goal of reduction was trifling -5-6 times less.
That was also the time when UNEP launched and started active promotion of Green Economy. Since 2009, I started convening the economists to research on the multitudes of benefits of the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer. The experts from climate change, biodiversity, business, civil society governments from developed and developing countries reflected and scripted the much wider benefits- going beyond climate- that the Montreal Protocol has accrued over two decades of its implementation. The experts enthusiastically penned down their thoughts. ‘Special issue of OzonAction’ of 2010 inscribed their reflections. For the first time ever, the broader benefits and longer leaps of the Montreal Protocol became obvious. The world recognized the multitude of benefits from single focused global environmental accord.
But the real turning point came for me on the subject, when Pavan Sukhdev, a thought leader in UNEP on Green Economy , wrote in that Special Issue of 2010, on how the Montreal Protocol is an opportunity for greening the economy and how it could catalyze innovation and investment in the green technologies. I, then, speeded up theglobal study with the active assistance of Economics and Trade Branch of UNEP and economists from Bath University in UK, University of California in USA and Beijing Univeristy in China.
The study revealed how and to what degree national, regional and international actions taken under the Montreal Protocol have also contributed to the restructuring of national economies towards a Green Economy. More specifically, the study explored how the Montreal Protocol has contributed to the stimulation of more efficient production processes, driving innovation, industrial restructuring, job creation, trade, health and ecosystem benefits, apart from climate change mitigation.
Out of 100 plus researched publications that I coordinated with my team in UNEP to facilitate the compliance with the Montreal Protocol, I consider this publication to be most thoughtful and path breaking in the realms of the Multilateral Environmental Treaties.
On 21st November 2014, when I left UNESCO’s HQ in Paris, at the end of the UNEP’s global meeting of the Montreal Protocol, I was in upbeat mood. The meeting had agreed to replenish the uniquely successful fund for the developing countries to enable them to continue the remaining compliance with the Montreal Protocol. It had agreed to fund another half a billion US dollars on top of more than three billion dollars already provided to the developing countries in timely and consistent manner.
Few steps out of “Maison de l’UNESCO”, as French call it, in cold open air of Paris , I was in for emotional set back, intellectually challenging scene that turned my all thoughts on success of the Montreal Protocol and Green Economy into helpless stark reality.
What I saw was ‘disruptive’ in a way. A couple and their daughter were siting on the road begging just outside the UNESCO. Many of the delegates coming from the meeting were engrossed in their own moods and dialogues. They must have seen those three-some symbol of poverty, but they have their flights-to catch. To be with their own family over week end was their priority.
2014 marks UNESCO’s 70th Anniversary. Founded in 1945, UNESCO aims to develop the “intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind” as a means of building lasting peace through its pioneering work in the area of education, culture and science. It has, as per UNESCO’s claim, helped change the way people everywhere understand each other and the planet we live on. I was not convinced. Even the results of study I convened in UNEP on the Montreal Protocol and Green Economy sounded hollow.
The irony was, this family of three were perched in open, right under the extraordinary exhibition–titled ‘CULTIVATING A CULTURE OF PEACE’ -of award winning photographs fixed on the fence of UNESCO to celebrate the 70th anniversary of UNESCO. The ‘family on the road’ was not aware of the success of UNEP , nor the celebrations at UNESCO and definitely not the concept of ‘Green Economy’ that promoted the goal of removal of poverty. A girl without access to school, parents with Future They Do Not Want. END
By Rajendra Shende , Chairman, TERRE Policy Centre and former Director UNEP.