Funding developing countries to seal ozone hole

Montreal Protocol continues to set examples for climate negotiations


September 7, 2022

/ By / Bangkok

Funding developing countries to seal ozone hole

Preparatory meeting for Montreal Protocol in Bangkok adjusted agenda to approve financing urgently

Even as the global attention remains fixed on climate change, perhaps with good reasons, the Montreal Protocol continues to progress and overcome the same issue that climate negotiations stumble on, funding. A recent meeting in Bangkok was yet another example of how to conduct sensitive, global or multilateral negotiations.

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Ever wondered whatever happened to the Ozone Hole? Not many would be able to even figure out the question, let alone answer it correctly. But little wonder about it since over 60 pc of the world’s population today is born not just after the discovery of the Ozone Hole, but after it was enroute to be successfully patched up.

But that is not the only reason why the world has nearly forgotten that horrific crisis which had as much potential to eliminate all life from the planet as today’s hot topic of global warming and climate change. Scientists say that by nature, people remember failures much more than successes. Psychologically, failure, like lifelong injury marks, sticks in the mind more than happy-ending stories. The humanity has time and again shown the penchant to learn from failures rather than from successes. Failures linger, while successes are written off.

The Montreal Protocol which is the first and perhaps the only highly successful global agreement, and not just in the sphere of environment is also suffering due to people’s amnesia about successes. And a recent development in the Thai capital, Bangkok, showed exactly why.

In July, delegates from around the world gathered in Bangkok as part of the preparatory meeting for the upcoming 34th Meeting of the Parties (MoP) in November 2022. The meeting was important as it part of the final lap before the MoP that would aim to complete the unfinished agenda of protecting the ozone layer.

Yet, hardly any mainstream media around the world took note of these forward-looking discussions. They mandarins of global media houses would be surprised to learn that on the last scheduled day of the preparatory meeting, the delegates unanimously decided to convert the preparatory meeting into an Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties but only to approve the budget of triennium 2021-2023, to ensure that the implementation of the Montreal Protocol continues to proceed smoothly! As an achievement, it was not just extraordinary but even incredible, especially in today’s world when the negotiations get stalled for years even over minor issues, let alone the issue of budget and finance.

Back to the future

Let us rewind fast backward. In 1970s and 1980s, the world was in grip of catastrophic atmospheric crisis. ‘Hole in the sky’ was the term formulated by the smart media at that time. Though the term was figurative, it signaled the serious depletion of the formidable life-shield around the Earth, called as Stratospheric Ozone Layer. Weakening of the Ozone Layer 15-30 km above surface of the Earth allowed life-threatening UV rays from the Sun to penetrate and fall on the Earth. The consequences included not only increase in incidences of skin cancers but adverse impacts on human immune system, decrease in agricultural production and marine life. Depletion of the ozone layer threatened posed an existential threat to life on the entire planet.

But very rapidly, in an exemplary fashion, the global community came together and reached an agreement, covering all the nitty gritty, including the crucial questions of financial and technical assistance by the rich countries to the developing nations. This led to an expedited implementation of the Montreal Protocol and the successful reduction and elimination of nearly 100 man-made ozone depleting chemicals and gases was historical. Those chemicals, of which most well-known were Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), were at one time essential for the progress and development of the humanity.

They were used, for example, for preservation of food in refrigerators and cold storages, for air conditioning in the hospitals and homes, as medical aerosols for asthma and respiratory diseases, as pesticides to enhance food production, as feedstock to manufacture other essential chemicals and plastics and so on. The only answer to seal the Ozone Hole was to eliminate production and consumption of such manmade chemicals and which posed immense technological and financial challenges to the world, especially the developing and developed world.

Surprisingly that was indeed achieved with alternative technologies developed by the scientists and technologists. The Ozone Layer was set on the path of recovery. Voluminous reports, backed by actual measurements, published every four years have consistently confirmed that.

In reality, by the year 2000, the smell of the success was in the air. Convening power was skillfully deployed by United Nations Environment Programme-UNEP-right from 1970s. That led to the science-based negotiations. The main three issues, that appeared to slow down the progress were resolved by proactive and well-intended collaborative actions by the developed and developing countries.  First, the industry’s denial mode towards the science of ozone depletion that pinned down the man-made Ozone depleting substances to the ozone depletion. Second, the incremental cost needed by the developing countries was agreed after pro-active leadership of the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the then US President Ronald Regan.

Developing countries succeeded in negotiating the principle of ‘Polluter Pays’ and the developed countries accepted it quickly and gracefully due to historical fact that it was developed countries who caused the majority of damage to the Ozone Layer.  Third, the developing countries joined the global efforts establishing yet another principle, ‘Common but differentiated responsibility’. Differential time schedule for actions to phase-out production and consumption of ozone depleting chemicals was agreed by which developing countries were provided with 10 years of grace period.

“Perhaps the single most successful international environmental agreement to date has been the Montreal Protocol,” Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary General’s  presentation to the Millennium Assembly of the United Nations in September 2000.

Ten years later scientists confirmed that depletion of the Ozone Layer has been halted. It is not only the depletion of the ozone layer that was halted but also the depletion of the trust between North and South. What was more, the process of trust building that had started 35 years earlier in the thick of cold war continued without disruption even though world went through numerous economic and health related upheavals. Since 1991 when the Multilateral Ozone Fund was established, the funding continued for developing countries at the level jointly agreed by developed and developing countries. That is striking as compared to the hollow promises by developed countries to developing countries under the ongoing negotiations in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Lessons from the past

Fast forward to the present. Thirty-five years after the Montreal Protocol was signed, many in media and  the world leaders consider now that Ozone Hole has been patched, it is time to move on, sending the agreement and all the lessons that it holds for multilateral agreements, to the dustbin of history. But little do they realise that time has come to carve this historical success on the rocks of environmental diplomacy.

The years 2020 and 2021 saw the literal ‘lockdown’ of the world due to Pandemic. Hence the triennium funding for 2021-23 which was to be approved by end of 2020, to continue saving the Ozone Layer. The interim budgets were approved in 2021 and 2022 through on-line meetings. No developed country tried to back out of their commitments, citing the economic slow-down due to pandemic. At the first chance of physical meeting, the countries agreed to full triennium budget of more than USD 540 million, that included earlier interim budgets. It was one of the highest three-year funding agreed to by the developed countries. Ironically, the agreement was reached at a time when the IMF predicted that the world may soon be teetering on the edge of a global recession.

Since the signing of the Montreal Protocol, over USD 5 billion have been provided by the rich world to the developing nations as incremental finance to change from ozone depleting to ozone friendly technologies.

Innovations in international collaboration and crossing the bureaucratic boundaries are the main stay of the Montreal Protocol. Another example is the 5th Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, related to HFCs. As such HFCs are ozone friendly and hence are introduced as alternatives to CFCs and HCFCs. But it was known that HFCs have high global warming potential, as much as 1,000-times more than carbon dioxide, but lesser that CFCs and HCFCs.

As such HFCs have been controlled under Paris Climate Agreement. Knowing that climate actions are lagging behind, including funding from developed countries, and that alternatives to HFCs have now been developed, Parties to the Montreal Protocol agreed to reduce the production and consumption of HFCs.

That was an unprecedented turning point for the Montreal Protocol. It literally turned ozone protocol into climate protocol, that too with full incremental funding to reduce production and consumption of HFCs. What is more, the alternatives to HFCs also give rise to energy efficiency in the appliances where HFCs are used. There is no other example of Multilateral Environmental treaty wherein such prudent and forward-looking amendments were agreed to.

The progress of the Montreal Protocol till now is, however, not without hiccups and bumps. In 2018, it was found through measurement by Agencies like NASA, NOAA, WMO that there was an increase in emission one of the major CFCs, CFC11. But instead of getting into a blame game, as usually happens in multilateral forums, the delegates got into action-mode and agreed to strengthen atmospheric monitoring stations to pin down the location of emissions and the precise trends of emissions. Some countries like the EU provided additional funding for the same. Since then, the ‘bump’ in decline of emissions has been wrinkled out.

There are other hiccups, hitches and glitches. Dumping of the unwanted appliances using CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs in poorer countries notably in Africa, misuse of exemptions for essential uses, destruction of banks of the Ozone Depleting Substances that are resting in storages and appliances. But the countries are well-prepared to deal with those challenges. They know that job is not yet fully done, but they are confident that they are well-prepared. We can expect more lessons from the Montreal Protocol before the ozone hole is fully sealed.

(Rajendra Shende, an IIT Bombay alumni,  is a former director of UNEP and currently chairman of Terre Policy Centre and advisor to Media India Group. The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Media India Group)



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