The road to Kyoto plus, lessons from ozone

A lot of people seem to despair about the possibility of effective regulation of greenhouse gas emissions around the world, but the more I read about the cases of persistent organic pollutants and CFCs, the more plausible it seems, given that a few specific and important progressions take place.

The first is the process of scaling upwards in policy levels, as seen very distinctly with CFCs. The Rowland and Molina paper that first suggested that CFCs cause stratospheric ozone degradation was published in 1974. By 1975, two US states had already banned their use as aerosol propellants (Oregon and New York). Hopefully, the progression from there to national and international regulation is one that can be emulated. Already, lots of American cities and states have signaled that they are serious about climate change, and willing to use regulation to combat it.

The second important dynamic has to do with industry expectations. Six years before CFCs became an issue in environmental regulation, DuPont – the largest manufacturer – canceled its program for developing alternatives. When it became clear that regulation was forthcoming, they were able to field some alternatives within six months, and a comprehensive range within a few years. Up to the point where regulation seemed inevitable, they continued to claim that alternatives could not be easily developed. The point here is twofold. First, it shows that the existence of solutions to environmental problems is not independent of regulation and industry expectations about future regulation. Secondly, industries that anticipate national legislation (as they began to in the US in the mid-1980s on the CFC issue) become a powerful lobby pushing government towards completing an international agreement. It is far worse for American industry to be at a loss because local rules are tougher than global ones than it is to simply deal with some new issues.

Thus, an American administration that takes up the baton from the many states that have initiated their own efforts to deal with climate change might be able to create the same kind of expectations in industry. Some are already asking for regulation to “guide the market,” specifically decisions about what technologies and forms of capital in which to invest. From there, it is at least possible that the US could play a key role in negotiating a successor treaty to Kyoto that begins the process of stabilizing and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A related point has to do with the extent to which environmental images are heavily influenced by images and symbols. According to Karen Litfin, the Antarctic ozone hole was one of the major factors that led to the Montreal Protocol. She calls it an ‘anomaly,’ unpredicted by the atmospheric science that had been done up to that point, and thus capable of making scientists and politicians more aware of the possibility of unancitipated risks.

At his talk yesterday, Henry Shue says he is hoping for some iconic moment in climate change, to play a similar galvanizing role (a bare-topped Kilimanjaro, the Larsen B collapse, drowning polar bears, and Hurricane Katrina don’t seem to have done it yet, though the connection between climate change and the last of those is not entirely established.) Some spectacular and distressing (but hopefully non-lethal) demonstration of the profound effects human greenhouse gas emissions are having may be necessary to generate an urgent and powerful drive towards effective responses.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

18 thoughts on “The road to Kyoto plus, lessons from ozone”

  1. On industry expectations, this is in the document Vattenfall sent me:

    “Technology is not an unsolvable problem, given time and incentives, neither is financing. The real challenge is policy. Will it really be possible for policy makers to get their act together in due time? To be very short, they have to, otherwise humanity will not be able to curb climate change.”

  2. “What is the Montreal Protocol’s secret of success? One difference between Montreal and Kyoto is that Montreal imposed restrictions on all countries from the start. A second difference is that Montreal created strong incentives for participation and compliance – a combination of carrots and sticks. A final difference is that Montreal created a system for positive feedback, with each step in reducing ozone depletion creating incentives for countries to take yet another step.”

  3. “There’s a lesson in this for future climate negotiations. Rather than cap aggregate greenhouse emissions directly, attention should turn to the actions that can be taken to limit the emissions of individual gases. Montreal could do it, so why not a different kind of climate treaty? Any new climate treaty must break the problem up, addressing different gases in different ways and focusing on sectors rather than economy-wide targets.”

  4. Energy sector braces for carbon costs
    The biggest producers of emissions are tallying the financial impact of tougher environmental legislation


    February 11, 2008

    CALGARY and TORONTO — Signalling a major shift, Canada’s biggest carbon-dioxide emitters are calculating the costs of climate change as they brace for new environmental legislation and tougher disclosure standards.

  5. Published online 28 January 2009 | Nature 457, 518-519 (2009) | doi:10.1038/457518a

    Cutting out the chemicals

    The international treaty drawn up to tackle ozone-destroying substances is gearing up to curb greenhouse gases. Jeff Tollefson reports.

    Jeff Tollefson

    “Ozone experts are exploring ways to curb powerful greenhouse gases of their own making under the Montreal Protocol, arguing that direct regulation would be faster and cheaper than using carbon markets under a global climate treaty.

    The Montreal Protocol set a strong precedent for such an approach, having almost eliminated production of the once-ubiquitous chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that eat away at stratospheric ozone.”

  6. UN scientists say ozone layer depletion has stopped

    (AFP) – Sep 16, 2010

    GENEVA — The protective ozone layer in the earth’s upper atmosphere has stopped thinning and should largely be restored by mid century thanks to a ban on harmful chemicals, UN scientists said on Thursday.

    The “Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion 2010” report said a 1987 international treaty that phased out chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) — substances used in refrigerators, aerosol sprays and some packing foams — had been successful.

    Ozone provides a natural protective filter against harmful ultra-violet rays from the sun, which can cause sunburn, cataracts and skin cancer as well as damage vegetation.

    First observations of a seasonal ozone hole appearing over the Antarctic occurred in the 1970s and the alarm was raised in the 1980s after it was found to be worsening under the onslaught of CFCs, prompting 196 countries to join the Montreal Protocol.

    “The Montreal Protocol signed in 1987 to control ozone depleting substances is working, it has protected us from further ozone depletion over the past decades,” said World Meteorological Organisation head of research Len Barrie.

    “Global ozone, including ozone in the polar region is not longer decreasing but not yet increasing,” he told journalists.

    The 300 scientists who compiled the four yearly ozone assessment now expect that the ozone layer in the stratosphere will be restored to 1980 levels in 2045 to 2060, according to the report, “slightly earlier” than expected.

  7. Ozone layer faces record loss over Arctic
    Geneva – The Associated Press
    Last updated Tuesday, Apr. 05, 2011 6:04AM EDT

    The depletion of the ozone layer shielding Earth from damaging ultraviolet rays has reached an unprecedented low over the Arctic this spring because of harmful chemicals and a cold winter, the UN weather agency said Tuesday.

    The Earth’s fragile ozone layer in the Arctic region has suffered a loss of about 40 per cent from the start of winter until late March, exceeding the previous seasonal loss of about 30 per cent, the World Meteorological Organization said.

    The Geneva-based agency blamed the loss on a buildup of ozone-eating chemicals once widely used as coolants and fire retardants in a variety of appliances and on very cold temperatures in the stratosphere, the second major layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, just above the troposphere.

    Arctic ozone conditions vary more than the seasonal ozone “hole” that forms high in the stratosphere near the South Pole each winter and spring, and the temperatures are always warmer than over Antarctica.

    Because of changing weather and temperatures some Arctic winters experience almost no ozone loss while others with exceptionally cold stratospheric conditions can occasionally lead to substantial ozone depletion, UN scientists say.

    This year the Arctic winter was warmer than average at ground level, but colder in the stratosphere than normal Arctic winters. UN officials say the latest losses – unprecedented, but not entirely unexpected – were detected in observations from the ground and from balloons and satellites over the Arctic.

  8. UN climate talks

    Pretty basic

    Diplomacy ahead of the UN climate conference in Durban augurs little progress

    NEVER has the UN’s Kyoto protocol looked sorrier. In 2012 the five-year “commitment period” it brought into being—in which developed countries took on legally binding responsibilities to cut their industrial greenhouse-gas emissions against 1990 levels—will end. Already Japan, Russia and Canada have refused to repeat the exercise. America was never part of it. Of the important rich countries, only the Europeans, responsible for around 13% of global emissions, will consider a second go. If cutting global carbon emissions was its aim, the UN scheme has failed.

    Yet it refuses to die. A UN climate conference will be held in Durban at the end of November, and the protocol’s future will dominate it. This was stressed in a recent statement from several powerful developing countries—Brazil, South Africa, India and China—who have formed a block called the “BASIC Group”. At a meeting in Brazil on August 26th-27th, “agreeing on the second commitment period” was apparently the main issue they discussed. It was hardly likely, they noted sharply, that a country would leave the Kyoto protocol because it wished to cut emissions faster.

  9. No other environmental initiative has achieved as much. Ozone-depleting chemicals in the atmosphere reached their zenith in 1994. The concentration of ozone in the atmosphere should be back to what it was before 1980 by the middle of this century, studies suggest. America’s Environmental Protection Agency estimates that up to 2m cases of skin cancer may be prevented globally each year until 2030 because of it.

  10. The implications of the exposés were startling. Not only did Exxon and other companies know that scientists like Hansen were right; they used his nasa climate models to figure out how low their drilling costs in the Arctic would eventually fall. Had Exxon and its peers passed on what they knew to the public, geological history would look very different today. The problem of climate change would not be solved, but the crisis would, most likely, now be receding. In 1989, an international ban on chlorine-containing man-made chemicals that had been eroding the earth’s ozone layer went into effect. Last month, researchers reported that the ozone layer was on track to fully heal by 2060. But that was a relatively easy fight, because the chemicals in question were not central to the world’s economy, and the manufacturers had readily available substitutes to sell. In the case of global warming, the culprit is fossil fuel, the most lucrative commodity on earth, and so the companies responsible took a different tack.

  11. How to stop the climate crisis: six lessons from the campaign that saved the ozone

    The phased ban on CFCs and dozens of other ozone-depleting gases was an economic blow to chemical firms, refrigerator producers and aerosol-spray manufacturers. Rich countries dealt with the job losses, technology upgrades and other economic consequences internally, but also provided support for poorer nations to manage the transition. From 1991 to 2005, pledges totalled $3.1bn. Similar arrangements exist for climate accords, but the sums need to be far higher because the actions are so much more expensive, the responsibility of industrialised nations is so much greater, and the impact on poor countries is incalculably worse.

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