Reflections on the Montreal Protocol:

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A Treaty that goes beyond Ozone Layer Protection

By Rajendra Shende,

Dec 2009.

When I travel from Argentina to Afghanistan, from Mexico to Micronesia, and from Bhutan to Bolivia in my pursuit to assist the developing countries to enable them to comply with the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer, I do get some rare moments to reflect on the  ‘most successful  multilateral environmental  treaty’ that the world has implemented so far  .

We all know that the ultimate objective of the Montreal Protocol is to recover the Ozone layer damaged by our indiscriminate use of Ozone Depleting Chemicals. Will the Montreal Protocol would be remembered only for achieving this objective only?

There are many achievements that would be remembered by the world community in future. The Montreal Protocol has now been ratified by each and every country in the world –a fete achieved by no other Multilateral Environmental treaty .

The remarkable fact that production & consumption of millions of tonnes of man-made ozone depleting chemicals, which humanity once relied on, was eliminated will without doubt stand in our memory as its greatest achievement.

Future generation will surely recall the unparalleled tale of determination with which the world community decided to accelerate the phase-out of the remaining ozone depleting chemicals such as HCFCs,.

The annals of the history will certainly echo with the message of optimism emanating from the Montreal Protocol on what can be achieved globally when world leaders embrace pragmatism in accepting common but differentiated responsibilities and translating this into action.

That those who acknowledged their responsibility for damaging the ozone layer and thereafter provided funding and technological innovation to address this crisis will indeed be commemorated for years to come.

And as the 2009 MDG report by United Nations stated, the lesson to remember : strong partnership and sound national policies lead to extraordinary progress in protecting the ozone layer.

But is that all?

For me, the Montreal Protocol will be most treasured for reasons entirely unrelated to the ozone layer and ozone depleting substances.

Firstly, the Montreal Protocol has shown that the ‘multilateralism’ can work, and work well  in a sustained manner. Multilateralism was the innovation of 20th century that arrived along with establishment of the United Nations. The UN’s multiparty platform is deployed to resolve and prevent political, social and economic conflicts –  with  mixed success. The work under the Montreal Protocol, in my view,  outshines all past efforts of multilateralism. It is the first treaty that institutionalised the democratic mechanisms for achieving environmental benefits in a ‘multiparty ‘system.

It will also be remembered as the first treaty that has demonstrated that a single focused global environmental accord can deliver a multitude of unintended benefits. The new refrigerators and air conditioning equipment manufactured without CFCs were much more energy efficient compared to those made before 1987. Many of the alternative technologies developed in other areas created ‘not-in kind’ replacements which entirely avoided the use of similar chemicals Implementation of the Montreal Protocol also promoted industrial rationalisation and better efficiency in many countries. And the Montreal Protocol has been the best climate treaty so far having eliminated 5-6 times more GHGs in comparison to the targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

In retrospect, the Protocol will retain its place in history as the instrument which developed, strengthened and nurtured the global, regional and national infrastructure used to implement global accords. The established and  practiced mechanisms under the Montreal Protocol such as: democratic decision-making at global level; best practices in capacity building through south- south  cooperation and networking  at the regional level; and workable mechanisms of  technology transfer and policy enforcement could present a ‘blueprint’ and encouraging example to achieve the goals needed to implement other global accords.

But the best part of the history, yet to be fully written, is that the Montreal Protocol has given a us a first glimpse of the ‘Green Economy’.

Back in 1987, a whole suite of new green business emerged embracing ozone-friendly practices. in recovery & recycling, , and in designing energy efficient appliances. This innovation has continued and green business dealing with the storage, transport and destruction of ozone depleting chemicals will now flourish.. Refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment now uses considerably less chemical to achieve the same results as a consequence of better energy and material efficiency – demonstrating the benefits of this ‘Green Economy’.

OzonAction Programme of UNEP that I have been leading has projects in more than100 developing countries. Each and every Government Official of National Ozone Unit from 146 developing countries is part of UNEP’s regional network and is a member of Ozone Family to me. We all work together to ensure that Ozone layer is recovered, so that we hand over the Ozone Layer to next generation in the same state as we got it from our forefathers. The Montreal Protocol would be remembered beyond the ozone regime, as international accord for ensuring inter-generational equity .

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