September 16, World Ozone Day, is not just a day to drum the success of the recovery of the Ozone Layer. It is also to bugle the triumph of the international era of accomplishment in Multilateral Environmental Diplomacy and lessons for those struggling for over two decades to find a workable solution for climate change and global warming.
As we celebrate the 35th anniversary of the stellar success of the Montreal Protocol, as the agreement to save the ozone layer from depletion is called, it is also time to look at the recurring failures in finding a similar agreement that is not only workable but also exemplary as it can lay the foundation for finding success in negotiating tricky, multilateral agreements, something that is sorely being missed in the world today.
Over the last 35 years, the Montreal Protocol has continuously made positive waves through vibrant negotiations that always ended with consensus, even on the trickiest of issues.
In sharp contrast, 30 years of failed international efforts to mitigate climate change are receiving a lot of flak, putting outcomes of the upcoming Climate Change Summit, COP-27 in Egypt, at the risk of utter failure. In this context, World Ozone Day stands out. Perhaps it is time for the negotiators preparing for the Sharm El Sheikh meeting to look at the lessons from Montreal Protocol to stitch up another much-needed environmental win for the entire planet.
There is a whole lot that negotiators of today can learn from those of us who negotiated the Montreal Protocol and then ensured its timely and complete implementation. It is not for nothing that the world proudly remembers not only the creative spins in negotiations that accelerated the implementation of the Montreal Protocol but also the resounding achievement in the prevention of the ‘sky-high-ozone-hole’ crisis that could have caused horrific havoc on our planet.
Small steps for big success
Montreal Protocol is the most successful global pact, which is wide-ranging, ambitious, unique and unprecedented. Montreal Protocol is all of the above and much more because it was the first proactive effort by humankind to do whatever it took to reverse the damage caused by human actions to global ecology. Indeed, accepting a target to repair the ozone hole was an unprecedented international agreement.
Another unique element which played a pivotal role in the success was the willingness of the rich world nations to acknowledge and accept the principle of ‘polluter-pays’, which paved the way for tens of billions of dollars being pooled in the rich world to help the poor nations avoid going down the same path of destruction of the ozone layer. The rich world also readily and almost proactively provided technological assistance wherever needed.
All in all, these elements ensured that the agreement was accepted and implemented in a time-bound manner and that the global community got together frequently to tweak the agreement as per the need of the hour. There are many reasons behind this flexibility and success, and one of the main reasons is the structure of the entire implementing mechanism.
One of the most innovative projects that proved to be the fulcrum of the success was the regional networking of National Ozone Units promoted by OzonAction of the United Nations Environment Programme and voluntarily established by national governments of 197 countries, typically called NOU. The simple but extremely effective mechanisms still work and contribute immensely to putting the Earth’s life shield on the recovery path. This mechanism has now become a torch-bearer to resolving planetary conflicts.
To ensure that the agreement was properly implemented, 50 developed countries supported 147 developing countries, who were grouped in 10 regional clusters for regular face-to-face meetings that provided access to each other’s data, strategies, progress, policies and projects. They learnt to accelerate progress by sharing and caring about each other’s plans and ambitions. Informal dialogue nurturing formal commitment is one of the key principles of the UN, and this agreement showed exactly how. More than anything else, these clusters were the meeting points of the minds of the countries where the success of the Montreal Protocol was sown.
It was a sharp and smart tool in action for conflict resolution. The conflict was sparked by the fact that G50 had caused most of the damage to the ozone layer and G147 had to suffer the most due to the impacts of depletion of the Ozone. Yes, developed countries agreed to pay an incremental cost to developing countries under the negotiating principle of ‘polluter to pay’, but the conflict was not easy to resolve. It persisted in the early years of the Montreal Protocol. Then ‘common but differentiated responsibility was agreed upon and put into practice to provide a differentiated and longer timetable for the common objective of phase-out of Ozone Depleting Substances.
Regional Networking meetings in which the developed countries also participated showed that investing in dialogue is equivalent to investing in our common future and success.
It is significant that on September 14, 2022, just two days before International Ozone Day, talking of climate change and the failure of the world to make any headway, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, ‘‘This year’s debate in General Assembly must be about providing hope. That hope can only come through the dialogue and debate that are the beating heart of the United Nations.”
It would be appropriate to highlight here that the United Nations Environment Programme’s OzonAction Programme had already realised this principle and its importance 35 years ago and initiated the actions.
The success of the Montreal Protocol in achieving global participation and accelerating the phase-out and phase-down of ozone-depleting chemicals can be attributed largely to the regional networks instituted by the OzonAction Programme of UNEP in 1991-92. ‘Regional Networks’ are still financially supported by the Protocol’s Multilateral Fund. They have become the arteries of communications between North-South and South-South with the single-minded objective of ‘sealing the Ozone Hole’.
Ongoing relationships through regular regional meetings of the Networks also facilitated the transfer of environmentally friendly technologies between North-South and South-South. For a long, the networks have played an additional role in encouraging innovation and knowledge sharing to advance the march towards the target.
Difference between climate change and the ozone hole
As a global head and Director of the OzonAction Programme in UNEP and the one who conceived and nurtured the mechanism of regional networks, it has always intrigued me to this date how and why the United Nations, over the last 35 years, has been successful in protecting the stratospheric ozone layer, while the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Climate agreement do not see any end to rising of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. Even the larger global peace mechanism established by United Nations more than 75 years back remains a formidable challenge and leaves jobs unfinished.
According to me, the answer to this query was that collective learning by sharing information was fundamental to the Regional Networks. Informal settings provide a free and flowing backdrop for each meeting. As the global community was implementing the Protocol, with the time-bound targets for eliminating the production and consumption of Ozone Depleting Substances ODS, the world needed innovative tools to make the treaty work. UNEP’s Regional Networks filled that niche by enhancing multilateral cooperation to enable developing countries to meet their compliance obligations under the Protocol.
There are presently 10 such regional networks, namely Southeast Asia and the Pacific, West Asia, South Asia, Central Asia and Europe, South America, Central America, the Caribbean, English-speaking Africa, and French-speaking Africa, Pacific Island countries. Developed countries have chosen to participate in the network of choice mainly to provide support and advice and to share their successes and failures. They often also benefitted by receiving new ideas from their counterparts in the South.
Early on, the Multilateral Fund did not provide the finances for participation by the countries that had not ratified the Montreal Protocol. But Finland came forward to provide such finances. The countries then understood the unique benefits and co-benefits of the Montreal Protocol, and the universal ratification became a reality.
Apart from the accelerated ratification of the Protocol and its Amendments, the regional networks have unique outcomes. Early development of national ODS legislation and other policy measures, more regular data reporting, and improved compliance with the ODS phase-out schedules. Regional Networks of Ozone Officers have now become a core institution under the Multilateral Fund, and many of the implementation processes under the Fund are now integrally linked to them. The Networks now play a key implementation role by providing a vital missing link between policymaking at the international level and measures and actions needed at the national level.
Even today, the meetings of the regional networks are regularly attended by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the World Bank.
Building Bridges and Breaking the Beaten Path
The social groupings, economic networks, and political fora that meet regularly are well-known. But rarely, if ever, networks are regionally grouped to implement the global environmental goals under the multilateral environmental agreements. The regional networks of NOUs under the Montreal Protocol stand out as one of the rare mechanisms contributing to achieving the environmental goal of setting the Ozone Layers on the recovery path.
The networks also provided mechanisms that addressed questions or the new challenges to recovering the ozone layer and where the replacements were found to be harmful in other ways. For instance, HFCs, alternatives to CFCs and HCFCs with very high global warming potential, are one cross-linking subject between the Montreal Protocol and Kyoto Protocol/Paris Climate agreement. All the networks widely debate it. The desire to have ‘two Protocols but one solution’ germinated in the Regional Networks. Synergies between chemical and trade treaties like the Stockholm Convention, Basel Convention and Rotterdam Convention were part of the forward-looking dialogue among the networks regarding effective integration.
The Executive Committee of the Multilateral Fund recognised Regional Networks as key channels to get feedback on the global implementation of the Montreal Protocol and strengthen the implementation. Such feedback resulted in developing a new project modality based on elements captured through UNEP’s country consultations. The new delivery mechanism for assistance to small countries through training, awareness-raising, good practice, synchronised policies, and related equipment and tools was founded on a solid sector assessment.
It is indeed a pity and a shame that a very successful and time-tested model of building global treaties and ensuring their timely and honest implementation has remained in the shadows. At the same time, governments and negotiators squabble over climate change.
The regional networks, which have existed for decades and have time and again proven their efficacy, ought to be replicated by climate change negotiators who can learn many lessons from the Montreal Protocol to break the gridlock that is sure to emerge at Sharm El Sheikh later this year.
(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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