REFLECTIONS on the MONTREAL PROTOCOL by Vic Buxton, CACOR member
….the International Community’s Covenant with the Future
In the early 1970’s, the world community was made aware of the potential future damage that would occur to the stratospheric ozone layer if we continued to use and emit ozone depleting substances. This early period was characterised by heated scientific debate as to the validity of these claims. However, it soon became evident to all that this was an environmental risk management problem, the downside of which would be immoral to bequeath to future generations. Furthermore, this was clearly a global problem that could only be remedied by a global response; and, a global response could only be achieved if there was a political will, and such a will on a global scale would require collective and co-operative actions by governments, industries, and all other interested parties.
Global efforts to protect the ozone layer began in earnest in late 1981. The Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer that was signed in March 1985, was the important first step. Whereas the Convention provides a framework for co-operative activities, including the exchange of data on matters related to the ozone layer, no agreement could be reached, at that time, on specific control measures. Negotiations between March 1985 when the Vienna Convention was signed and when the Montreal Protocol was finally signed in September 1987 can be most charitably described as “difficult”. Nonetheless, the fact that we were able to sign a Protocol heralded the start of a chain of remarkable achievements.
The Montreal Protocol put in place an international process for controlling all ozone layer depleting substances. It did this by:
* providing both a short and long term plan for addressing all of the ozone layer depleting substances;
* providing a mandated phasedown which stimulated product development for environmentally acceptable substitutes or alternatives (the phasedown also affected market behaviour through placing constraints on supply and demand);
* it signalled to all producers and users of these controlled substances that society’s tolerance of these chemicals would be short lived and future investment decisions should be made accordingly;
* it put in place a dynamic, science and technology driven process whereby the stringency and scope of the controls can be adjusted in response to the current understanding of the science, the environmental affects, the technological capabilities, and the economic considerations;
* it provided, within its own framework, an incentive for developing countries to join the Protocol early without fear of additional economic hardship for having done so;
* it provided for trade sanctions as a way of denying those that chose to remain non-parties access to the worlds most lucrative markets.
In September 1987, when we were all basking in the afterglow of the successful conclusion of the Montreal Protocol negotiations, many of you will remember, especially those of you from industry, that there was a sense that much time would be needed to see real progress on the ground. But the signing of the Montreal Protocol was seen by all as a beginning and not an end. It was simply not acceptable to the international community to assume that the early consensus-based (not science-based) reductions agreement could, or should, survive for other than the very short term. The onus was on, the developers or supporters of the technical solutions to demonstrate the feasibility of accelerating the schedule. The international community’s message was simple ¼ we must move further, faster. Future generations were counting on us to secure their future.
Ten years later, upon reflection, you the atmospheric environmental stewards have performed admirably. You’ve gone further and faster than anyone dreamed possible and for this you deserve both credit and global recognition. Through the various supportive panels of experts you created, you demonstrated that sufficient information or data was available to make key decisions to secure a reasonable lifestyle for all inhabitants without further degrading the atmospheric environment.
The panel work paved the way forward. The data displayed was widely accepted by the international community and they agreed that we had to press ahead in making continuous improvements, if only in small steps.
The Montreal Protocol not only represents a political understanding and commitment between governments, on the direction of both policy and action required to protect the atmospheric heritage of mankind. It also recognises within its contextual setting that to succeed, all sectors of society must be actively engaged in policy formulation, action planning and implementation. Decisions that so intimately affect our personal well being can no longer be seen as the sole prerogative of Governments. What the Protocol managed to achieve was a web of interconnected relationships and commitments involving all sectors of our society.
So many people take a well-deserved special pride in the Montreal Protocol accomplishment; a Treaty, the likes of which the world had not seen before and without extreme vigilance and courage at the highest political levels, is unlikely to see again.
Industry has long realised the importance of international controls. With ever expanding markets, industry for some years has looked to the international intergovernmental community to create agreed behavioural norms and thus avoid economic/trade disruption brought about by differing domestic standards. But under the auspices of the Protocol, industry went much further than this. It decided itself to enter into a unprecedented level of co-operation to find environmentally appropriate solutions in the shortest time frame possible. I believe industry revisited its corporate value system, and in many instances, redefined its corporate ethics: moving from a policy position of doing the minimum the law requires to doing the right thing even if that meant far exceeding the letter and even the spirit of the law. The profit criterion was, in many instances, held in abeyance, for the timely achievement of the greater good.
Another sector that deserves special mention is the contribution of NGOs. During the ozone layer negotiations, the NGOs gave us constant reminders that spaceship earth carries no passengers, just crew members and each bears responsibility for keeping us on course. Their greatest contributions were through their active presence and contributions to the debate and their role in making ozone layer protection a political issue in many countries. They constantly reminded us that the property of all will remain the responsibility of none unless each of us can find the strength of personal conviction to crawl out from under the weight of self interest. NGOs were the restrained voice of conscience during the verbal wars to protect the ozone layer. The ozone Treaty negotiations, often traumatic and sometimes paralysed by unrelenting self interests, were often re-energized by NGO reminders of what, in the ultimate analysis, really mattered. NGO active and constructive participation proved that there is a better alternative to confrontation.
This takes me to the second major milestone of this great success story which occurred when the Protocol was amended in London in 1990. At that time, the Protocol made its most dramatic achievement…not in the augmentation in stringency and scope of its technical revisions, although these were important, but rather through the introduction to the world of its ethical revisions.
An Indian scientist, Anil Agarwal, during the Earth Summit process, noted, “global environmental concern is all about caring and sharing and learning to live within the limits of the earth’s environment.” The international community in 1990 was supportive of a new paradigm of relations with developing countries¼ one characterised by equality, dialogue, trust and partnership predicated on the concept of mutual need. For the first time in history, the international community was able to strike a global bargain on an environmental issue in which the most affluent 20-25% of the world’s population, the developed countries agreed to provide the 75-80% of the world’s financially poorer peoples, the developing countries, with financial and technical assistance so they could proceed with addressing the Treaty obligations at no net costs to their often already cash-starved economies. The inclusion of the multilateral funding mechanism transformed the amended Montreal Protocol into perhaps the world’s first environmental Treaty that was predicated on, and took formal recognition of, the concept of mutual need.
The Montreal Protocol multilateral fund, in my mind, is all about caring, sharing and the pursuit of mutual need. The Montreal Protocol’s consultative framework provides a forum where developed and developing countries engage equitably in a dialogue to address common concerns and where we can collectively move from the idea of donors and recipients to one of successful partnership to solve global problems predicated on the concept of mutual need.
The Montreal Protocol experience has dramatically altered the way in which we value and view multi-sectoral participation and consultation.
Let me close by saying that we can all take great pride in our collective Montreal Protocol accomplishments. I salute all those who have contributed to the creation of the Montreal Protocol and its continuous improvement and evolution. I especially salute the many unsung contributors to this success story from industry, the inner sanctums of Government, and volunteers from the NGO community. But lest we forget, the work is not yet finished. An opportunity and obligation still remains within each sector to undertake a holistic audit or update of its goals, its aspirations, its responsibilities to enunciate the remedial measures it will pursue to protect the atmospheric heritage of mankind. With these actions we will update our social contract, the work plan for our covenant with the future.
G. Victor Buxton