The Montreal Protocol

The briefest of introductions to the only thing every country on the planet has ever agreed on.

The year 2017 has seen some iconic 30th birthdays so far, and hence I found it fitting to talk at length about one of them. Unfortunately, it isn’t Dirty Dancing, Zac Efron or even The Simpsons, but it’s better; it’s about an international agreement to save the world from the dangerous effects of the sun.

It’s the Montreal Protocol.

It all began in the 1970’s when two chemists published a paper. They were F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario J. Molina, and they theorized that certain molecules called CFC’s (Chlorofluorocarbons) found inside refrigerator coolants, A.C. units, and aerosols had the power to destroy ozone molecules.

This was bad news for the ozone layer, a protective shield of ozone located in our stratosphere, around 20 to 30 kilometres above the Earth’s surface. This layer protects us from harmful U.V. rays from the sun. Without it, we would be more susceptible to skin cancer, cataracts, and damage to crops and marine ecosystems The depletion of ozone from this region became even more of a pressing issue in 1985 when an ozone ‘hole’ was discovered above Antarctica.

In the face of this global threat, 28 countries met at the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. This meeting eventually led to the United Nations Environmental Programme creating what we call the ‘Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer’, or simply the ‘Montreal Protocol’.

This protocol aims to phase out the production and consumption of ODS (ozone depleting substances). It is the only universally ratified environmental treaty (hopefully, the first of many) as it has been ratified (given validation) by 197 countries. One reason leading to its international success is the treaty’s flexibility. It allows different countries to set different deadlines for phasing out different ODS. It has a multilateral fund to assist less economically developed countries to fund the change of chemicals. It can be amended and adjusted to reflect technological, scientific and political changes worldwide. An example is the Kigali Amendment. The Montreal Protocol had previously demanded the decrease of HCFC’s (Hydrochlorofluorocarbons), and in its place, countries began using HFC’s (Hydrofluorocarbons). While HFC’s are not ODS, they are greenhouse gases, and hence the Kigali Amendment was created in October 2016 to phase out HFC’s too.

And if you were wondering about India’s place in the Montreal Protocol, it is an important one. With a large population and an even larger amount of potential ODS emissions, India’s cooperation and compliance have been vital to the Protocol’s success. The Ozone Cell, a part of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, ensures the country’s compliance with the Protocol. An annual publication titled ‘The Montreal Protocol; India’s Success Story’ details India’s ODS phase-out efforts. Being a developing country, India receives monetary aid from the Multilateral Fund and is currently undertaking around 300 projects to reduce ODS. Its efforts towards the Montreal Protocol are quite commendable.

The most important question, however, is: has the Montreal protocol worked?

According to Susan Solomon, a leading climate research scientist and climate change professor at MIT, it has. In October 2016, her team tracked the size of the ozone hole above Antarctica and used information from satellites, balloon tests, and simulations to conclude that the ozone hole had shrunk by 4 million square kilometres. This is a definite sign of success. Other scientists predict that the ozone levels will return to their pre-1980’s level around 2050, as long as every country meets their obligations.

These achievements will be celebrated this year, at the Ozone Awards from 20th to 24th November in Montreal, Canada. The Ozone Secretariat  (the official home of the Montreal Protocol) plans to give out awards to individuals, organizations and groups who have been extremely committed towards the protocol and its implementation.

And we can do our part too by celebrating Ozone day on September 16th, and, as the official tagline for ozone day reads, be #ozoneheroes by caring for all life under the sun. Learn more about the Protocol here.

Author: Ishana Sundar


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