George Bernard Shaw, polemicist once said that ‘England and America are the two countries separated by the same language’. When the UN conference on the Montreal Protocol on the substances that deplete the ozone layer ended in Montreal
on 24th Nov, albeit in the wee hours of 25th November, I thought that the same can be said for the two cities, Paris and Montreal, not only about French language but also the Agreements signed there on global action on Climate.
The UN meeting in Montreal celebrated 30th Anniversary of the success of the phase-out of the Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS). The meeting in Bonn, week before, after its 25 years of the global efforts was still wondering how to even finalize the rule book to stabilize the climate and keep rise in temperature not more than to 2 deg cent before 2100, while making the efforts to limit that rise to 1.5 deg Cent, the objective of the Paris Climate Agreement.
While President Trump is walking out of the hard-negotiated Paris Climate Agreement, surprisingly he has decided to support the Montreal Protocol including its 2.0 version that now includes full blast action against climate change. His administration has even promised to take nearly 25 % share of funding of over half a billion dollars pledged by the developed countries to provide to the developing countries. The deal to provide USD 540 million over next three years for the purpose was sealed in Montreal last week.
It was warm news in the below zero temperature of the Montreal as against the cold news coming from Bonn climate conference, that ended a week before the Montreal meeting.
Extraordinary success story of that Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer never seems to have full stop in its narrative. Though Trump never tweeted about it, this multilateral environmental accord, brokered by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1987, was signed by the Republican President Ronald Reagan and fully supported by the Democrats. Under the treaty, the developed countries pledged all the incremental financial support to the developing countries during their transition away from ODS. More importantly, that pledge was honored year after year without interruption, even during the global financial crisis. It has now reached cumulative amount of USD 3.5 billion. USA’s continued contribution, like that of all other developed countries, to the ozone multilateral fund was mainly rooted in the deep concerns related to health impacts of ozone layer depletion like skin cancer and cataracts. Ronald Reagan himself was victim of the skin cancer.
Developing countries responded to the Montreal Protocol that was balanced after the counter weight of the Ozone fund, by implementing the transition to ozone-friendly technologies. The protocol has now already achieved its goal of phasing out nearly 100 percent of millions of tonnes of more than 90 man-made ODSs like Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and Hydro chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), used mainly in refrigeration. air conditioning, foams and solvents. The factories producing these chemicals are literally shut down.
If slogan ‘We Can’ has real life example, it is this one. In one single generation, these ozone depleting chemicals were invented, their catastrophic impact on the stratospheric ozone layer that shields life on the Erath was scientifically identified, the global action to phase out these chemicals was agreed through the international agreement, developing countries were provided by the developed countries all the incremental costs and technologies and the phase-out of these chemicals was achieved exactly on the targeted year and the day. Never before such astonishing chain of action was triggered to its completion.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called it “…the single most successful international environmental agreement to date”. Erik Solheim, Executive Director, UN Environment (UNEP), during the opening ceremony on 24th November, called the Montreal Protocol “a testimony of the spirit of togetherness of nations and humans.”
That ‘togetherness’ has carried the Montreal Protocol’s success beyond the phase-out of ODS. Major ODS like CFCs are also Green House Gases (GHGs). Thus, their phase out under the Protocol has, as side benefit, also resulted in the permanent cumulative emission reduction of GHGs to the extent of 130 Giga tonnes equivalent of carbon dioxide by 2010, compared to just about 1 Giga tonnes of GHGs reduction aimed by 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol. In reality, Kyoto Protocol finally resulted into the GHGs increase by of more than 40 percent, by 2012.
While the Montreal Protocol did successful market transformation to ozone friendly world, the Kyoto Protocol remained fatally flawed. Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, follow up from the unfinished Kyoto Protocol, is still faltering and fudgy.
That ‘togetherness’ highlighted by Mr. Solheim is conspicuous by its absence from Climate Agreements. However, it was ever evident under the Montreal Protocol. The latest achievement came when in 2016 all 197 countries agreed to deploy the institutions nurtured under the Montreal Protocol for last 30 years to now phase-down the deadly Green House Gases (GHGs), hydrofluorocarbons-(HFCs) some of which are more than 10,000 of times more powerful than carbon dioxide. The developed countries, led by USA, pledged the financial and technology support,
That was unprecedented decision, because the seminal objective of the Montreal Protocol was to get rid of ODS and not GHGs. “It was like using Non-Proliferation Treaty for Nuclear Weapons to control the Trade in Drugs and Crime!” said one of the African environmental law expert, commenting on the that decision made in Kigali, capital of tiny African country Rwanda. The treaty of the Montreal Protocol, in other words, was used as ‘surrogate mother’ to carry the seeds of the Paris Climate Change Agreement to deliver the climate friendly baby.
There are two-fold reasons for that unusual action: first, HFCs were introduced as substitute for CFCs and other ODS due to their zero-ozone depleting potential. The countries therefore considered that getting away from HFCs would correct their unintended error and contribute to mitigation of climate change. Second, the developed countries agreed to the incremental funding for the developing countries for their yet another transformation from HFCs to non-HFCs.
Thus, the Montreal Protocol has now entered its 2.0 version and became climate change treaty, to reduce the emissions of the most potent global warming gas –HFCs, which incidentally are also one of the six groups of the GHGs under Paris Climate Agreement.
Kigali Amendment of the Montreal Protocol has already full filled the condition to allow the Montreal Protocol to enter into force in January of 2019. Developed countries will start reducing HFCs as early as 2019, while developing countries will start later. Phasing down HFCs under the Protocol is expected to avoid up to 0.5°C of global warming by the end of the century, while continuing to protect the ozone layer. If the energy efficiency improvements due to use of non-HFCs in refrigeration and Air conditioning appliances are taken into account then the avoided warming would be even more. That will be equivalent of achieving the at least 25% of the objective of the Paris Climate Agreement of limiting the rise to 2 deg Cent. USA has not yet ratified the Kigali Amendment, but it is clear based on the keen support of the US state department and the white house in negotiations in Montreal, Trump would find it extremely difficult to revert the decision by 197 countries, that is backed to the hilt by the USA industry.
World should now concede some cool-points to the President Trump and his administration amidst the hot chaos. END
By Rajendra Shende
Chairman TERRE Policy Centre, former Director UNEP and IIT Alumnus.