Depletion of the ozone layer began in the 1960s and there was an immediate need to draw the world’s attention to it. Some of the primary warnings on the threats to the ozone layer came from the Nobel laureates Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina in 1974 in their publication “Stratospheric sink for chlorofluoromethanes: chlorine atom catalyzed destruction of ozone” (Rowland & Molina, 1974). Post their findings, there was a universal cry to bring forth legislation to regulate the usage of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone-depleting substances (ODS). Emanating in this backdrop was one of the earliest global conventions on environmental protection – the Montreal Protocol (1987).
The Montreal Protocol falls under the ambit of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, 1985 (Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer – DAWE, 2021). The Vienna Convention initiated the academic discussions and scientific discoveries in the province of human activities and their impact on the stratosphere. Ensuing the Convention, the Protocol came into force.
The Montreal Protocol, the only treaty to have been ratified by all the 198 United Nations member countries, is an environmental global treaty that aims toward the gradual elimination of substances that lead to the depletion of the ozone layer (About Montreal Protocol, n.d.). The ozone (O3) is the atmospheric layer that protects the Earth and the life on it from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. Many chemical substances including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) have the potential to break down the ozone layer.
Essentially, these ODS were largely used in the manufacturing of refrigerators, foams, and aerosol sprays, and the supply chain was congested with them in the 1950s and 60s (History of the Ozone Layer, n.d.). To offset this growth and break the chain of causation in the damage to the ozone layer, the Montreal Protocol came into existence and identified close to 100 such man-made ODS. Under the treaty, each member was bestowed with a specific duty with the goal of phasing out the usage of ODS.
One of the first nations to identify the threat to the ozone layer was the United States of America who was largely influenced by Rowland and Molina’s study (International Regime Formation: The Politics of Ozone Layer Depletion and Global Warming – LSE Theses Online, n.d.). While the European countries were still working on the uncertainties that revolved around the ozone layer and the impact of CFCs on them, the US had already begun ozone protection policy regulations. Likewise, the Japanese joined the negotiations only in 1986 because certain compounds of CFCs were used in the electronic industry, a vital source of income for the Japanese economy.
In 1977, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) addressed the first international meeting on ODS in Washington DC. Subsequently, the US industry started working towards alternatives for CFCs and initiated several restrictions, especially the aerosol ban. The ban alone cost the US economy over USD 3 billion.
In light of this, more studies were being conducted across the world. In 1986, there was a report submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency of the US highlighted the prevalence of skin cancer among people due to the use of consumer products made of CFCs. Several companies were afraid that lawsuits would be filed against them on the grounds that their products caused lung and skin care diseases. This also persuaded the American industries to look for alternatives. Additionally, scientist Susan Solomon’s expeditions in Antarctica reiterated the threats of ODS in 1986 and ‘87 (Waxman, 2019). Thus, the push from the US played a major role in executing the Montreal Protocol.
Both prior to and post the Montreal Protocol, citizen activism played an active role in environmental policy-making (Cook, 1990). Consumers of the day as a mark of protest, even before the government introduced the ban, had boycotted the spray cans.
April 22, 1970, marks the day when millions of US citizens demonstrated on the streets to voice out against corporations and organizations that harmed the Earth. It was a milestone in the drive toward environmental protection which led to the enactment of the Clean Air Act, of 1970 in the US. Similarly, when the US decided to build supersonic transport planes (SSTs) during the same period, environmentalists refused to fund the project for the sole reason that SSTs flown into the stratosphere can damage the ozone layer. These actions culminated and reflected the mission of the Montreal Protocol.
Targets and Funding
The targets set by the Protocol are of several stages (Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer – DAWE, 2021) . The first target was to get rid of CFCs. The developing countries achieved it by 1995 while the developing countries by 2010. Every year, the members met and set their goals towards gradually phasing out a particular percentage of ODS from the system. One of the ongoing targets among developed and developing countries includes the phasing out of hydrofluorocarbons (HCFs) by 2036 and 2045, respectively. Thus all countries, both developing and developed, have equal and diversified commitments which are “binding, time-targeted and measurable” in nature (About Montreal Protocol, n.d.).
To smoothen the transition towards an ozone-friendly production and consumption methods, in 1991 the Protocol established a Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol to provide technical and monetary aid to developing countries. Ever since it came into being, it has funded over USD 3.9 billion in more than 8,600 projects across the world (About Montreal Protocol, n.d.).
The success of the Montreal Protocol is evident from its long-standing impact in the field of environmental protection. It has lived through three decades and it continues in its purpose with the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030. Not only has it paved the way for the protection of the ozone layer, but the Protocol has also indirectly helped in fighting global warming and climate crisis (Velders et al., 2007).
With the Protocol, it is expected that the ozone layer will replenish by the middle of the 21st century. The coronavirus pandemic has also catalyzed the process. With the lockdown across the world, man-made emissions into the atmosphere were halted, including ODS. Consequently, a small hole spotted in the ozone above Antarctica in 1982 closed last year (Coronavirus Lockdown Helped the Environment to Bounce Back, 2020). These developments are proof that the Montreal Protocol is a commendable environmental initiative for a sustainable future.
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Rowland, S., & Molina, M. (1974, June 28). Stratospheric sink for chlorofluoromethanes: chlorine atom catalysed destruction of ozone. 1974 Nature Publishing Group. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://websites.pmc.ucsc.edu/~pkoch/EART_206/09-0312/Molina%20&%20Rowland%2074%20Nature%20249-810.pdf
Velders, G. J. M., Andersen, S. O., Daniel, J. S., Fahey, D. W., & McFarland, M. (2007). The importance of the Montreal Protocol in protecting climate. Retrieved 2022, from https://www.pnas.org/doi/pdf/10.1073/pnas.0610328104 Waxman, O. B. (2019, September 23). In the 1980s, the World Acted to Save the Ozone Layer. Here’s Why the Fight Against Climate Change Is Different. TIME. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://time.com/5681661/climate-change-ozone-history/