Remarks at the Seminar on Protecting our Atmosphere for Generations to Come
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Panel: Twenty-Five Years of the Montreal Protocol: Perspectives on Experiences Gained and their Usefulness to Address Other Global Challenges
As we meet here today to celebrate the success of the Montreal Protocol over the last 25 years, I want to share some thoughts on why the Protocol has been so successful.
And the Protocol has been remarkably successful. Through our cooperative efforts we have made great progress in meeting the environmental challenge that led to the creation of this body -- namely the protection of the stratospheric ozone layer. It now appears that human-caused damage to the ozone layer is reversing -- as a direct result of the Montreal Protocol.
Not only that, but in doing so we have also succeeded in providing huge benefits to the climate system. Scientists estimate that from 1990 to 2010, the Montreal Protocol’s controls on ozone-depleting substances have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 135 gigatons of carbon dioxide. To provide some perspective, this is about what 1,500 coal-fired power plants would have emitted annually over the same time period. Our efforts under the Montreal Protocol thus have delayed global carbon dioxide forcing by about 10 years.
So, why have we been so successful and how can we continue along this path of success? A key reason for the Montreal Protocol’s success is that, under it, all countries have commitments.
The Montreal Protocol also has universal participation. It is the first treaty in UN history to achieve that distinction.2
At the same time, the Parties have facilitated universal participation by providing technical and financial assistance to developing countries.
So a key factor in the Protocol’s success is that the global community recognized a common problem and came together in a practical way to solve it.
Another factor in the Montreal Protocol’s success is that we were able to bring together science, technology and policy in an effective partnership between governments and civil society, including most significantly the private sector.
The Parties recognized that we needed sound, independent scientific and technical advice and so we created the Scientific Assessment Panel, the Environmental Effects Assessment Panel, and the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel. Their advice and hard work have been critical to our efforts. We need to continue to strengthen these bodies and their methods of operation so that we can continue to make decisions based on the best available science, with an understanding of emerging, state-of-the art technologies, and on the basis of sound policies.
We recognize the importance of monitoring our successes at this critical
junction by maintaining global capacity for ground-based measurements of the
stratospheric ozone. Observation activities allow us to see our continued
progress in restoring the ozone layer and in ensuring protection into the future.
We have also had clear goals, which helped stimulate innovation and technology development by creating a market for ozone-friendly technologies. We went from chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), to hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) to, in some cases, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). And now we are increasingly turning to low-global warming potential (GWP) alternatives so that we can ensure that in solving one problem – safeguarding the stratospheric ozone layer – do not exacerbate another, even greater environmental challenge – global climate change. We need to redouble our efforts, working together as governments and civil society, to ensure our policy and approaches in the Montreal Protocol and the UN Fraework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are consistent, effective, and mutually supportive. We can bring the same sense of purpose and determination to protect the ozone layer to ensure we do not compromise the substantial climate benefits we have already achieved.
I have talked about science, technology, technical and financial assistance and commitments by all countries. But underlying all these is a spirit of cooperation 3
that has allowed us to come together and to act collectively. We have had differences of opinion over the years, but we have listened to each other and we have always been able to find a common path forward.
And sometimes we have agreed—together—to change paths. For example, we came together to amend the Protocol and accelerate the phase-out of methyl bromide and HCFCs. We did so because science told us that those substances continue to damage the stratospheric ozone layer, because our assessment of state-of-the-art technologies told us that we could move to alternatives, and because we knew that doing so would bring substantial environmental benefits. And in the case of HCFCs, not only are we accelerating the recovery of the stratospheric ozone layer, but we are also achieving substantial climate benefits.
Colleagues, the Montreal Protocol has been successful in part because we have not rested on our laurels. We have come together to address new challenges and opportunities.
Part of our charge here today is to consider how experience gained under the Montreal Protocol may be useful in addressing other global environmental challenges.
The Montreal Protocol has been enormously successful in addressing a
global environmental problem stemming from the use of chemicals that are intentionally produced -- but it does not follow that it can be replicated everywhere.
Solving other global environmental problems will likely require approaches
tailored to the unique issues they present.
Still, it is possible – even vital -- to draw from our experience under the
Montreal Protocol to consider how specific achievements may help us in coming to grips with similar problems elsewhere. I recall, for example, that years ago people were concerned about what might be involved in moving from CFCs to other substances – in particular, they were concerned about the costs involved. The assertions of some that these costs would be enormous dampened enthusiasm for moving forward until our Environmental Protection Agency undertook a series of studies in specific developing countries to determine more precisely what the costs would be. The results of these studies were critical – they showed that, while not insubstantial, a global effort could be undertaken at a cost that nations collectively could meet.4
Later, we in the United States specifically looked to this example from the
Montreal Protocol as we developed the U.S. Climate Change Country Studies Program that helped developing countries inventory their greenhouse gas emissions, assess their vulnerability and consider the technological options available to them in addressing their own emissions of greenhouse gases. This program, which ultimately involved some 55 countries, proved to be one of the most successful we have ever undertaken – and it was the direct result of lessons learned from the Montreal Protocol.
We have learned other important lessons as well: (1) the importance of learning by doing; (2) the value of beginning with small commitments and increasing them over time as we gain experience in meeting them and as science informs our understanding of the extent of the environmental problem we face, and (3) the need to reduce seemingly intractable problems to their constituent parts and to work on each in a deliberate way, mindful of emerging technologies and alternatives.
I urge that we continue to apply the valuable experience we have gained
under the Montreal Protocol as we move forward in other areas.
In particular, I urge that we not deplete the store of benefits to the climate
system that we have built up under the Montreal Protocol by ignoring the impacts on the climate system of our actions to protect the stratospheric ozone layer. We have a critical opportunity now to "get it right" – let us seize it!