The discovery of the ozone layer hole meant bad news for everyone. Because they found out that the main cause of this phenomenon is various man-made activities, scientists and world leaders alike knew that man-made activities will solve the problem. Thus, the Montreal Protocol was born.
Since they identified various ozone-depleting substances as the catalyst for this problem, it became the main focus of the Montreal Protocol. They believed that addressing the root cause is the best way to fix the problem, that is why they decided on the implementation of a stepwise manner of phasing out these ODSs. The initial purpose was to simply limit their use, but studies showed that this is not enough and the ideal way of dealing with the problem is to completely prohibit these substances.
Fortunately, they were right in their assumption. The gradual phasing out of ODSs yielded positive results, namely the levels of the ODSs are in constant decline since it was enacted and now, the ozone layer hole is smaller than ever. It also indirectly made positive changes to other world problems, namely poverty, climate change, global food supply, and public health.
All these positive impacts make the Montreal Protocol an important global treaty.
It was the talk of the town, rather, the world, when it was discovered that there is a hole in the ozone layer decades ago. Common folk took it literally, believing that there is an actual hole in that layer and anyone who ends up under it will get the worst case of sunburn, among others. Scientists would later clarify that this hole is not an actual hole but a phenomenon that results in ozone layer depletion(link to article on ozone layer depletion?).
One of the immediate global reactions to this discovery is to craft various laws to address the issue. These were enacted with the goal of stopping further damage to the ozone layer. But among these different laws so far, there is nothing that is more all-encompassing than the Montreal Protocol.
Before the establishment of the protocol, most of the local laws focused on lessening the use of ozone-depleting substances to lessen its effects on the ozone layer. It was the Montreal Protocol that took a more active role, as its primary goal is to completely prohibit the use and production of such substances after some time.
Most people are unaware of what the Montreal Protocol is and its importance. While you do not need to read the entire protocol word for word, it is important to understand its essentials to know how it has evolved over the years and why this landmark protocol is acknowledged as the most successful environmental law and is seen as the major catalyst for the recovery of the ozone layer.
What is the Montreal Protocol and Why is it Important?
Most people may have likely heard the Montreal Protocol in passing but have no clue what it really is and why it is important. They may have a vague idea that it is related to the ozone layer because of the abundance of news about it in the past, but they do not fully understand why this is considered a globally significant law.
The ozone layer was initially believed by scientists to remain permanently undamaged, but it was discovered over the years that this is not the case. In fact, scientists made a startling discovery in 1985 that there are parts of the ozone layer above Antarctica where the levels of ozone have dropped below the historically low levels. This discovery was instrumental in crafting the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in 1985.
Despite being considered as one of the landmark environmental laws, the Vienna Convention mostly focused on research and fact-finding, as there were still some skeptics about the reports on the ozone layer hole, and even the ozone layer itself. Because of this, the participating countries had a hard time agreeing on what the control measures should be and dealt more on research cooperation, and they were unable to craft laws that will deal with the goal of reducing the ozone layer hole.
To fill this important gap, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, or simply the Montreal Protocol, was enacted in September 1987. This protocol was also the result of the scientific community and world leaders finally reaching a consensus on matters involving the ozone layer after much confirmatory research and studies.
Unlike the Vienna Convention, the Montreal Protocol took a more active role in addressing the matter. Because it was confirmed that certain substances negatively affect the ozone layer once they reach the stratosphere, the primary goal of the Montreal Protocol is to gradually phase out these substances, which will reduce the depletion of the ozone layer.
Montreal Protocol Summary
International laws and protocols are known to be extensive, that is why we have provided a summary of the multilateral Montreal Protocol to help you understand this environmental treaty better and why its success is beneficial for all humanity.
Due to the discovery that the ozone layer is becoming depleted and is mainly due to certain substances being released to the atmosphere that reach the ozone layer, world leaders decided to be more active in dealing with the issue.
The concrete actions to address the problem started with the establishment of the Vienna Convention, whose goal was to protect humans and the environment from the effects of ozone layer depletion. But because this convention did not establish rules to achieve this, it resulted in the adopting of the Montreal Protocol in 1987.
This particular protocol aimed to decrease the substances that cause the depletion of the ozone layer by initially phasing down their production, importation, and use, starting with chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons. These two were widely-used in various household products considered essential, that is why it was decided that they must be phased down first.
Because the immediate outright banning of these substances will also pose a problem, the Montreal Protocol promoted the gradual phasing down of these substances according to a set timetable. This will allow people ample time to discover more eco-friendly alternatives and make adjustments to various products that rely on these substances to work.
The protocol divides countries into two specific categories, namely developing and developed countries, and this categorization results in different timetables. Developing countries are generally given more time for the phasing out of these substances than developed countries, particularly with a 10 to 15-year window between them. They acknowledge the challenges that these developing countries will face, particularly financially and technologically, to comply with the protocol, hence the longer timetable.
While phasing out these harmful substances is the main goal of the Montreal Protocol, it also acknowledges the fact that there are still some instances when using them is necessary. Because of this, they came up with provisions specifying when they can be used but only in controlled amounts and if they meet the strict criteria set. To be precise, if the purpose of using these substances is considered essential or critical, it may be allowed if it meets the specific conditions set.
The main goals of the Montreal Protocol during its creation were:
- Start the phasing down of CFCs in 1993, decrease it by 20% in 1994 (when compared to the consumption level in 1986), and finally reduce it by half by 1998
- Freeze or restrict the manufacture and use of three specific halons in developed countries by 1993, comparing their levels to the 1986 levels
- Restrict the trading of these substances between signatories and non-participants to prevent the transfer of facilities involved in their production to non-signatory countries
From phasing down and limiting its use, the Montreal Protocol eventually changed its main objective to the phasing out of these substances in the future. CFCs are the first to be phased out, followed by the other substances that were later added to the list after various amendments to the protocol over the years.
In order for those developing countries to meet the Protocol’s goals, the signatories eventually established a Multilateral Fund. The purpose of this fund is to aid these particular countries meet the timelines set in the gradual phasing out of these harmful substances. And to check on the progress of all the signatories in meeting the established timeframes, the Protocol requires the submission of progress reports and assessments from every member party.
Fortunately, all these efforts paid off and continue to do so, as the ozone layer hole is now at its smallest size since it was first discovered. Not only that, the amount of ozone-depleting substances present has decreased by 98% compared to the levels back in the 1990s.
The Montreal Protocol has achieved so much in a relatively short period of time compared to other environmental laws.
Which Problem Does the Montreal Protocol Address?
You may have guessed by now that the Montreal Protocol addresses the problem of the depletion of the ozone layer. While the purpose of the Vienna Convention is also to protect the ozone layer, it failed to establish global concrete actions to do so. The Montreal Protocol, under the umbrella of this Convention, was the first of its kind to take a more active approach with the phasing down of ozone-depleting substances, which later lead to an outright banning but done in steps.
Had it not been for this landmark treaty, scientists believed that the ozone layer may be gone by the year 2050, and lead to catastrophic consequences for everyone. Scientific evidence has shown that the ozone layer hole has been growing at an alarming rate since its discovery, and the Montreal Protocol managed to slow it down over the years.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also mentioned that the Montreal Protocol will also address other key global problems. In particular, this protocol is also believed to help meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set in terms of global poverty, health, climate change, and food supply. By addressing ozone layer depletion, they know that it will set a positive chain reaction and also address the other problems indirectly caused or worsened by the ozone layer hole.
How Does the Montreal Protocol Reduce Ozone Depletion?
The Montreal Protocol acknowledges the fact that it is man-made activities that are the biggest catalyst of ozone layer depletion and that it is vital to reduce this. In particular, there are certain substances that have the biggest effect on the ozone layer.
While the ozone layer hole is also caused by a natural phenomenon that occurs during spring, scientists found out that these ozone-depleting substances (ODS) cause the rapid increase of the hole. Because of this discovery, they realized that by reducing the source of the depletion, it will lead to the reduction of the depletion itself.
However, they acknowledged that this was easier said than done because these substances were abundantly used for so long, not knowing that they remain in the atmosphere for a long time. When the ODS reaches the ozone layer, they destroy the essential ozone molecules. With less ozone present, the size of the ozone layer hole increases.
Scientists have also made an unfortunate discovery that ozone-depleting substances stay in the atmosphere longer than desired. While most of them can linger for years, there are specific ODS that remain in the atmosphere even for decades. CFCs were discovered in the 1920s, but it was only around the 1980s when it was confirmed to be harmful to the ozone layer. This means for more than six decades, ozone was destroyed faster than it was created because of the ODS present.
CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances were widely used in various consumer goods for decades, such as air conditioners, refrigerators, and aerosol cans. Manufacturers even reportedly produced as much as 1.2 million tons of ozone-depleting substances in 1986 to meet consumer needs. This demand meant that there were no limits in the production of ODS and the products that use them at that time.
But with the introduction of the Montreal protocol, it led to the much-needed control over these substances. By limiting the ODS, its production lessened and manufacturers had to come up with alternatives for products that require ODSs to function. With this move, it led to the much-needed increase in the creation of ozone molecules to reverse ozone layer depletion.
Scientists have acknowledged the critical role the Montreal Protocol played in achieving this feat, which further proves its effectiveness. Despite the ozone layer being capable of “healing itself” it cannot do so if the ozone-depleting substances had not been limited or completely banned.
What Substances Deplete the Ozone Layer?
Based on scientific research and evidence, there are more than a hundred substances that deplete the ozone layer, and these are collectively known as ozone-depleting substances. These ODSs are man-made compounds or chemicals that typically contain chlorine and/or bromine and combines with fluorine, hydrogen, and carbon.
The ODS that combine any of the atoms above are known for their stability, allowing them to reach the ozone layer undamaged. And unlike other compounds, the rain cannot dissolve or push them back to earth, which means they are free to drift upwards anytime.
When these gases reach the ozone layer, the ultraviolet radiation coming from the sun will break the compounds apart and separate the chlorine and bromine, turning them into free atoms. Once they interact with ozone molecules, a reaction will occur that leads to the destruction of the ozone molecules.
A chlorine or bromine atom can singlehandedly destroy at least 100,000 ozone molecules before vanishing. And since these are abundantly present in ODS, they cause massive loss of ozone molecules that leads to the depletion of the ozone layer itself.
Simply put, any substance that contains either chlorine or bromine, or both, can become a catalyst that will cause the depletion of the ozone layer.
Which Chemicals are Controlled by the Montreal Protocol?
Because of the identification of the various ODSs over the years, the Montreal Protocol established control over the production and use of such chemicals. To make it easily identifiable, they sorted these chemicals into the following general categories:
- Carbon Tetrachloride
- Methyl Chloroform
- Methyl Bromide
The full list of chemicals controlled by the Montreal Protocol can be found here.
Chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, were the first chemicals to be identified as ozone-depleting. CFCs proliferated in the atmosphere for decades because of their stability, fire resistance, non-toxicity, and effective heat absorption. They were used as coolants for refrigerators and air conditioners (with Freon being its most identifiable form), solvents, aerosol propellants, and blowing agents for foams. CFCs are a combination of chlorine, carbon, and fluorine atoms and are also considered as greenhouse gases.
Best known as an integral component of fire extinguishers, halons were also identified as an ODS early together with CFCs. Halons are made up of fluorine, bromine, and carbon and are safe for use, as long as it is within recommended levels or concentrations. Despite this, its ozone-depleting potential or ODP is the highest because of the bromine present. Halon 1301, in particular, has the highest ODP among all known ODSs.
Developed as alternatives to CFCs, hydrochlorofluorocarbons or HCFCs consist of chlorine, carbon, fluorine, and hydrogen atoms. Hydrogen makes the HCFCs more stable than CFCs and is broken down in the stratosphere, causing less damage to the ozone layer. Despite this, HCFCs are also considered greenhouse gases and this prompted it to be eventually banned.
Carbon tetrachloride was once essential to the production of CFCs because it was used as feedstock or raw material before the Montreal Protocol was enacted. Consisting of carbon and chlorine, it was also used in agricultural pesticides and fumigants, industrial solvents and paints, fire extinguishers, pharmaceuticals, and dry cleaning agents.
Methyl chloroform was also developed as a substitute, but this time for carbon tetrachloride. Known to be hazardous to humans, methyl chloroform or 1,1,1-trichloroethane consists of chlorine, hydrogen, and carbon. It was often used as an industrial solvent, particularly for degreasers, adhesives, and cleaners, especially of metals and electronics, that is why it was widely used in the manufacture of equipment and electronics.
Primarily used in the agriculture industry because of its effectiveness as a pesticide, methyl bromide or bromomethane is another chemical considered as an ODS. It is also used as a fumigant for agricultural products and soil fumigation, disinfectant for food-processing facilities, as well as in the quarantine and pre-shipment of trade goods. Composed of hydrogen, carbon, and bromine, the Protocol still allows its controlled use, as there are no effective alternatives for it yet.
Bromochloromethane is also known as Halon 1011 but is not considered halon, since it is a combination of chlorine, carbon, hydrogen, and bromine. It was also formulated as an alternative to carbon tetrachloride for use in fire extinguishers but is known as a toxic substance.
Also known as HBFCs, hydrobromofluorocarbons exhibit the same properties as CFCs, HCFCs, and halons due to its chemical composition. HBFCs consist of a frame of hydrogen and carbon, with a bromine or fluorine attached to it. But unlike its counterparts, it was not extensively used worldwide.
Among these, chlorofluorocarbons, methyl chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, and hydrochlorofluorocarbons emit chlorine, while methyl bromide and halons release bromine. So far, CFCs, halons, HBFCs, carbon tetrachloride, methyl chloroform, and bromochloromethane are already phased out, while HCFCs and methyl bromide will follow suit after several decades.
Montreal Protocol Countries
While it now seems that the majority of the world complies with various measures to prohibit the production and use of ODSs, not all of them are part of the original countries that enacted the Montreal Protocol. In fact, only 46 countries belonging to the United Nations back then were the first signatories. Despite this, they achieved major stride, which prompted the other nations to become signatories later on.
The 46 original signatories of the Montreal Protocol are:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Burkina Faso
- European Union
- New Zealand
- Russian Federation
- United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
- United States of America
- Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Over the years, more countries signed up to become a party to the Montreal Protocol. Those who joined after the Montreal Protocol was enacted are:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Plurinational State of Bolivia
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Brunei Darussalam
- Cabo Verde
- Central African Republic
- Cook Islands
- Costa Rica
- Côte d’Ivoire
- Czech Republic
- Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- Equatorial Guinea
- Holy See
- Islamic Republic of Iran
- Lao People’s Democratic Republic
- Marshall Islands
- Federated States of Micronesia
- North Macedonia
- Papua New Guinea
- Republic of Korea
- Republic of Moldova
- San Marino
- Sao Tome and Principe
- Saudi Arabia
- Sierra Leone
- Solomon Islands
- South Africa
- South Sudan
- Sri Lanka
- St. Kitts and Nevis
- St. Lucia
- St. Vincent and the Grenadines
- State of Palestine
- Syrian Arab Republic
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United Arab Emirates
- United Republic of Tanzania
At recent, all UN member states, as well as the Holy See and Palestine who are not UN members, are participants to the Montreal Protocol. From the original 46 countries, the member parties are now 198.
Montreal Protocol Amendments
Just like any other global treaty or law, the Montreal Protocol had various amendments over the years to keep it updated and meet the pressing needs and concerns over time. As of this time, there are five amendments made to the Montreal Protocol:
- London Amendment (enacted in 1990, entered into force in 1992)
- Copenhagen Amendment (enacted in 1992, entered into force in 1994)
- Montreal Amendment (enacted in 1997, entered into force in 1999)
- Beijing Amendment (enacted in 1999, entered into force in 2002)
- Kigali Amendment (enacted in 2016, entered into force in 2019)
The London Amendment focused on adjusting and strengthening the original measures crafted to control the ODSs listed by the Protocol, particularly CFCs, carbon tetrachloride, and halons, and phase them out by 2000 and 2010 in developed and developing countries respectively. It also introduced methyl chloroform to the list of controlled ODSs, promoted continuous research on its legal, technical, and scientific issues and established the Multilateral Fund for developing countries to meet their goals.
The primary purpose of the Copenhagen Amendment was to adjust the timelines set so that the phasing out of the known ODSs will occur much earlier. It also set the phaseout of HCFCs to 2004 in developed countries and adjusted the phaseout (in developed countries) of CFCs, carbon tetrachloride, halons, and methyl chloroform to 1996.
Supplementing the Copenhagen Amendment is the Montreal Amendment that pushed for the phaseout of HCFCs in developing countries. Methyl bromide should follow suit in developed countries in 2005 and in developing countries by 2015.
The Beijing amendment was later introduced to have stricter control over HCFCs, particularly in terms of their manufacture and trade. It also added bromochloromethane to its list of ODSs and set its phaseout goal to 2004.
After discovering that the supposedly less harmful HCFCs are in fact worsening climate change, the Kigali Amendment sought its phasing down. It was later identified as a greenhouse house, and its manufacture and use may not contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer but it does affect the climate.
While only five amendments were made so far, it will not be surprising if the parties meet up again in the future to discuss further amendments, particularly with the scheduled phasing out of ODSs. These changes were necessary to meet the goals set and to make much-needed adjustments, depending on the severity of the ozone layer depletion.
How Does the Montreal Protocol Work?
Despite undergoing multiple amendments over the years, how the Montreal Protocol works remains essentially the same. That is, it promotes the phasing out of ODSs in both developed and developing countries according to the set timelines and in a stepwise manner.
These timelines vary according to the ODSs and the country involved, but they follow a general pattern:
- The first step involves halting the production of these ODSs. By freezing its manufacture, member parties expect the ODSs levels to be lower compared to the reference levels set. These reference levels can either be the average level in a specific year or periods, depending on the ODSs.
- Minus percentages relative to these reference levels should be reached by the dates set. The number of these targets will also depend on the specific ODSs; some may have only one target minus percentage by a certain year, while others may have multiple targets over the years.
- Following the pattern of decline in ODSs levels, the phaseout dates will be set.
To better understand the process, here is the set timeline for HCFCs for developed countries, with the average level of 100% CFCs and 2.8% of HCFCs in 1989 used as the reference level:
- Freeze its production by early 1996
- Reduce it by 35% by 2004
- Reduce it by 75% by 2010
- Reduce it by 90% by 2015
- Complete phaseout by 2020
By setting a timeline, all member parties are expected to meet these respective deadlines to meet their goals. To track the progress of individual countries, the Protocol mandates them to provide accurate progress reports annually. This not only monitors each country’s compliance and progress in terms of the schedules set, but it also monitors the overall effectivity of the Protocol in prohibiting these ODSs.
Member parties acknowledge that developing countries will likely experience difficulties meeting the Protocol’s goals compared to developed countries, that is why they decided to establish the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol. This fund serves as financial assistance to help these developing countries meet the schedules set and is replenished every three years.
These member parties also have annual meetings to check on the overall progress in terms of meeting its objectives, keep themselves updated with the latest scientific findings, and come up with ways to make all participants be more compliant and meet their respective timelines.
The overall process is straightforward, but meeting the goals of the Montreal Protocol involves a lot of work. In case a member party fails to meet its target or non-compliance, they have come up with measures that can be done. Depending on the case, these can either be by providing the needed assistance, issuing a reprimand or caution, or suspension. The purpose of these measures is to ensure compliance of member parties to the protocol.
Why Was the Montreal Protocol Successful?
Among all environmental laws created so far, the Montreal Protocol is unanimously considered as the most successful. This claim can be justified by various scientific evidence, but there is no evidence more decisive than the shrinking of the ozone layer hole.
If you recall, this hole was the result of the ODSs present over the years. These ODSs are the main focus of the Protocol since they see it as the main source of the depletion of the ozone layer. By prohibiting the production and consumption of the ODSs, they believe that the ozone layer will eventually recover, which is what is happening now.
The continued success of the Protocol is due to multiple factors, such as:
- Cooperation between all member parties. Because they had a very specific goal backed by ongoing scientific research, it was easier for them to come up with actual solutions and ways to enforce them. They also encouraged the participation of key informants, which are the scientists, and this greatly helped them in decision-making.
- Financial aid encouraged everyone to participate. There is a generally low expectation for low-income countries to fully participate in global treaties and laws due to financial constraints, but the Montreal Protocol begs to differ. By providing funds to these countries, it will enable them to meet protocol’s goals.
- Awareness of the worst-case scenarios. There was widespread alarm with the discovery of the ozone layer, leading to a lot of misconceptions. In some way, these misconceptions also helped because it pushed people to take immediate actions to fix the problem. Finding out what the actual effects of ozone layer depletion are also helped because they realized that humans are not the only ones who will be affected; the situation will be that bad.
- More freedom and less formality. Member parties were encouraged to participate and they also promoted flexibility. That is, they may have established the Protocol but there is leeway to make further changes to tailor-fit it in order to achieve their goals, hence the various amendments over the years.
- Early identification of ODSs. Since they are aware which substances are destroying the ozone layer early on and as further research comes in, they can address them immediately and identify which ones need to be prioritized and phased out first.
- Participation of various industries. Those who are known producers of ODSs and products that use them were more than happy to comply with the protocol because the ODSs they make or use were starting to become obsolete at that time. Finding more efficient alternatives meant they can save money in the long run.
- Ordinary people also complied. Since people have a general understanding that the ozone layer hole is bad news, they were more active in preventing the worst-case scenarios they imagine from happening. Even basic information and misconceptions were enough to motivate them to participate in various programs that address ozone layer depletion.
All these factors were essential in ensuring the continued success of the Montreal Protocol. And since people were seeing the positive results of their actions, as well as experiencing negative effects of ozone layer depletion, they were even more motivated to reverse the problem.
Is the Montreal Protocol Still in Effect?
Given that we are getting consistently getting good news about the ozone layer lately, and the fact that it can heal itself over time, you may wonder if the Montreal Protocol is still in effect. After all, all these make it seem that there is already no need for the Protocol. The short answer is: yes. In fact, they recently added money to the Multilateral Fund for the developing countries.
While there have been major strides over the years, there is still much to be done, especially in developing countries. There are still some violators that produce ODSs, as well as products that require these ODSs, despite already prohibiting their production and use. These ODSs are also still present in the atmosphere, although they are now at generally lower levels.
The ozone layer may be quick to recover, but it is also quick to become damaged, especially since most ODSs remain in the atmosphere for years. While many ODSs are already banned, there are some that are still in the process of being phased out, which means they are still being used even in smaller amounts.
With the Montreal Protocol in place, it ensures that known ODSs will continue to decrease over time until it reaches the date when it becomes completely banned. Also, there is always a possibility that new ODSs may be discovered, just like what happened several times in the past, that is why constant monitoring is still needed. Early discovery makes early phasing out of these new ODSs possible.
Certain ODSs have already been banned, but there are still some ODSs whose phase-out dates are still decades from now. Because of this, the member parties still need to monitor each other’s progress in accordance with the Protocol. They may also need to make subsequent amendments and adjustments in the future, just like what happened in the past.
Until all these ODSs have been prohibited and the ozone layer hole has been completely repaired, you can expect the Montreal Protocol to remain in effect. It may mean more hard work for many, but the benefits for all mankind and the environment makes everyone’s efforts worth it.
We are already reaping the benefits of decades-long efforts, so there is no reason to stop now, especially because the ozone layer hole is still there, even if it is now smaller.