Policy Implications from the Montreal Protocol

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Policy Implications from the Montreal Protocol

Executive Summary

In the mid 1980s, the international community decided to address the issue of

ozone depletion. In 1987, the Montreal Protocol was signed, setting out abatement

schedules for major ozone depleting substances. Due to several unique factors

surrounding the issue of ozone depletion, the Montreal Protocol was, and continues to be,

a great success. That being said, there are a number of problems that parties to the

agreement have faced over the years, and it is important to learn from these and apply the

lessons to future international environmental agreements. For one, trade leakage was a

major problem for developed nations under the Montreal Protocol. Moreover, other

issues, including illegal trade, technology transfer problems, data collection problems,

and conflicts with subsequent environmental agreements have marred the Montreal

Protocol, and need to be considered when crafting new abatement policies, such as the

Kyoto Protocol.

Montreal Protocol

Up until the late 1920s, the most common artificial refrigerants were toxic and

volatile gases such as ammonia and methyl chloride. It is for this reason that when

chemist Thomas Midgley Jr. developed what appeared to be a safe and inert substitute in

the form of the family of chemicals known as chlorofluorocarbons in 1930, they were

soon widely adopted as coolants for both refrigeration and industrial solvents1. It wasn’t

until a few decades later, in 1974, that two scientists by the names of F. Sherwood

Rowland and Mario Molina proposed that CFC emissions would lead to the destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer2. At that time Drs. Rowland and Molina suggested that

while inert in the lower atmosphere, when CFC molecules reach the stratosphere and are

exposed to ultraviolet radiation they release chlorine atoms that will bond with the

atmospheric ozone to form chlorine monoxide.

Ten years later, in the mid 1980s, Antarctic researchers discovered a large hole in

the ozone layer. This finding seemed to be corroboration of Rowland and Molina’s

original findings2. With a depleted ozone layer, higher levels of UV radiation will reach

the earth’s surface and cause a range of problems3. These problems can include reduced

plant growth, which would have extensive implications for the agricultural sectors around

the world; higher mortality of phytoplankton, which could affect marine ecosystems and

ultimately fish stocks worldwide; and higher rates of skin cancer and melanoma among

humans. “A United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) study [showed] that a

sustained 1 percent decrease in stratospheric ozone will result in about a 2 percent

increase in the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer, which can be fatal. With the

successful phase-out of CFCs, however, EPA expects 295 million fewer cases of this

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