Today we’d like to talk about the “Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer”, often referred to as the only international environmental treaty to date that has actually worked.
The ozone layer is crucial as it protects the earth’s surface from harming UV-radiation. However, starting in the 1980s, Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used in refrigerators, spray cans, and certain plastics became increasingly popular. Ninety percent of CFCs were produced by Global North countries. These pollutants break down the ozone layer which led to a growing “ozone hole” (not really a hole but that’s the colloquial name) starting in the mid-80s.
This was seen as an imminent threat and already in 1985 28 countries’ representatives met in Vienna to lay the groundwork for what was to become adopted as the “Montreal Protocol” in 1987. In it, the signatory countries agreed to effectively reduce CFCs so that scientists today expect ozone layers to be at the 1980 level again in fifty years from now.
The “Montreal Protocol” and the “Vienna Convention” from two years before have been ratified by 197 parties and are therefore the first universally ratified treaties in the UN’s history.
There are many reasons why the protocol has been successful. A few important ones include the space for small group sharing of perspectives in negotiations that also included scientists, the clear articulation of what industries needed to change while providing a stable yet flexible framework that allowed for long term planning and a compliance procedure that didn’t focus on punishment but rather on support for countries that are missing the goal. Above all, the negotiators showed commitment to global cooperation and political will that has rarely been seen since.