The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer came back into the news on Monday (11 November), with reports[i] on a paper published in Nature Geoscience which finds that reductions in chlorinated fluorocarbon (CFC) emissions achieved under the Montreal Protocol have contributed to the lower rate of global warming since the 1990s. This is because CFCs – and other halogenated hydrocarbons covered by the protocol – are also greenhouse gases, socutting these emissions provides a double benefit for the environment.
According to the Commonwealth Department of the Environment the Montreal Protocol ‘is widely considered as the most successful environment protection agreement’. Well, they would say that wouldn’t they? Them being a federally funded sheltered workshop for greenie policy wonks and all. Put that cynicical idea aside, however, and you’ll find that there are good reasons to hail the Montreal Protocol as a success. I’ll restrict myself to two:
- First up, the Montreal Protocol is the first international environmental treaty to achieve universal ratification. That’s merely a political success but it does demonstrate that it’s possible to get at least universal lip service to international action to deal with international environmental problems;
- According to NASA’s Ozone Watch, the Antarctic Ozone hole reached its largest extent on 24 September 2006 – it’s now a lot smaller, so there was enough genuine commitment on the part of signatories to make the protocol work.
The Montreal Protocol isn’t the only international protocol on the environment that has been a success: the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution has been equally successful in dealing with the problem of acid rain. It’s worth remembering these lessons of recent history in the current political climate where it seems so many are advocating, as their bottom line on dealing with climate change, that the responsible position for Australia to take is ‘We won’t ‘til you do and so there’.