The Impact of the Montreal Protocol after Thirty Years

By Xiaoyi Wang


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Background

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (the Montreal Protocol) celebrated its thirty years on September 16, 2017. The Montreal Protocol is an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out 99 percent of nearly 100 ozone-depleting substances (ODS), including CFCs, HCFCs and halon. As one of the most successful and effective environmental treaties ever negotiated and implemented, the Montreal Protocol has helped reduce the depletion of the ozone layer by about 20 percent from 2005 to 2016. The shrinking of the ozone hole will bring numerous benefits to people’s health (reducing the chance of having skin cancers and eye disorders) and agriculture. It will also help slowdown global climate change and to prevent extreme weather events (hurricanes, floods and droughts). The Montreal Protocol was a “milestone for all people and our planet,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

The treaty has been ratified or accepted by all 197 UN member states. “Thirty years ago the world proved it can come together and tackle a global problem with global resolve,” said Erik Solheim, head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The ozone layer is expected to return to 1980 levels between 2045 and 2060 as long as countries continue to meet their obligations.

The Success of the Montreal Protocol

There are a number of multinational treaties dealing with environment issues. Among them, the Montreal Protocol has achieved a great deal of success in atmosphere protection.  The lackluster compliance with the Kyoto Protocol, which was set in place to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, as the prominent counter-example. The success of the Montreal Protocol does not come from nowhere.

The Role of the United States

The United States government played an exceedingly aggressive role in producing the Montreal Protocol, which contributes to its success. By the 1980s, the industry within the United States achieved significant progress in producing safe substitutes for CFCs. Not only was the financial obstacle progressively removed, the ongoing disagreement within the Reagan Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was resolved after a careful cost-benefit analysis from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, which suggested that the costs of controls would be far lower than anticipated, and the benefits far higher. Considering the benefits to mankind and the cost of reducing CFCs when its substitute was readily available, even unilateral action was well-justified for the United States. “But if the world joined the Montreal Protocol, the benefits for the United States would be nearly tripled, because it would prevent 245 million cancers by 2165 including more than five million cancer deaths,” stated by Scott Barrett in Environment and Statecraft: The Strategy of Environmental Treaty-Making.

Global Participation

To assist developing countries to meet their commitments, the Multilateral Fund (Fund) was established in 1991. To date, the Fund has approved activities including industrial conversion, technical assistance, training and capacity building worth over $3.6 billion. With the financial assistance from the Fund, developing countries largely comply with the Montreal Protocol. Currently, 147 of the 197 parties to the Montreal Protocol meet its criteria.

The other element that encouraged countries to ratify the Montreal Protocol was its trade provisions. The trade provision limits the signatories to trade only with other signatories on CFCs and other ODS. Once the main producing countries signed up to the treaty, it was only a matter of time before all countries joined in the system. 

After over thirty years in picture, the Montreal Protocol still benefits the mankind. The success of the Montreal Protocol provides a workable system when environment protection requires global cooperation.