Montreal Protocol: one of the most successful environmental agreements celebrates its 20th anniversary
From 16 to 21 September representatives from the 191 countries party to the Montreal Protocol will celebrate 20 years of success in protecting the ozone layer. Taking place in Montreal the celebrations will mark the important achievements made by the Protocol such as the phasing out of about 95% of the ozone-depleting substances under the agreement. The European Union and its Member States continue to play a leading role in the success of the Protocol. The ambitious policies they have put in place often go beyond the requirements of the Protocol and the EU consistently pushes for tougher controls at international level. Despite these achievements the ozone layer is not expected to recover until some time between 2060 and 2075 and perhaps even later. The timely recovery of the ozone layer remains heavily dependent on agreed commitments being met and new challenges being tackled.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "The effective and united approach taken by the international community to combat ozone depletion demonstrates what can be achieved when there is the will to address environmental problems. The flexibility and dynamism of the Montreal Protocol has proved its worth over the past 20 years. It has made significant contributions to tackling climate change and I am confident that it will continue to evolve to face future challenges. But it is important for the international community to make a renewed effort to bring forward the phase-out dates for HCFCs while ensuring that ozone- and climate-friendly alternatives take their place. The EU has already made a big step in that direction and will lend its support to other parties who want to follow us."
Flexibility and dynamism, a recipe for successful environmental protection
Over its 20-year history the Montreal Protocol has done much to control ozone-depleting chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives that are not detrimental to human health and the ecosystem. Its innovative and dynamic approach is seen as a model for other international responses to environmental problems.
The European Union has been at the forefront of the Protocol's successes. It has often gone beyond its Protocol commitments and has been a driver for the development of innovative technologies which do not use ozone-depleting substances (ODSs). EU Member States have ended early the use of the worst ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that were found in spray cans and refrigerators. Member States have phased out the use of methyl bromide as a pesticide except for critical uses where no technically or economically feasible alternatives are available. Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) – which initially replaced CFCs – have also been phased out apart from its use as a refrigerant for air conditioners and refrigerators. Current EU waste legislation is now being reinforced to ensure that the treatment of ozone-depleting substances found in waste does not harm the ozone layer.
Chlorofluorocarbons were phased out by developed countries by 1995. Despite such efforts the holes in the ozone layer over the Antarctic and Europe in October 2006 were the largest ever recorded. ODS emissions are decreasing, but the latest scientific assessments suggest that Antarctic ozone will not return to pre-1980 levels until some time between 2060 and 2075, 10 to 15 years later than earlier assessments suggested. The phase-out of ODSs - all of which have significant global warming potential - has reduced the pressure on climate change.
Some of the early solutions put in place to combat ozone depletion have created their own set of challenges, which now require an international response. At Montreal, the signatories of the Protocol will need to address a number of issues. They will need to discuss bringing forward the phase-out of the family of ozone-depleting and greenhouse gases known as hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). They will need to tackle issues such as decreasing the number of areas where ozone-depleting substances are exempt or not covered by the Protocol. They will need to find ways to prevent ODSs trapped in existing equipment and buildings from being released. They will need to promote the uptake of alternatives to ozone-friendly but global warming inducing hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). And they will need to also address how to stop illegal trade in banned ozone-depleting substances.
In addition to addressing these challenges the international community will have to ensure that compliance with already existing commitments remains a priority and that the link with other international environmental agreements such as on climate change, persistent organic pollutants, waste, chemicals, and plant protection are strengthened.
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