16 September marks 31st anniversary of the signing of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Signed in 1987, the Montreal Protocol is a prime example of how the international community has come together to successfully slow and reverse anthropogenically caused environmental impacts to the world’s ozone layer. Thirty one years later, the protocol remains a well-known example of what an internationally-aligned community can achieve, with many lessons that can be applied to tackling today’s global challenges. The Montreal Protocol has seen a long history, including eight amendments since 1989.
The ozone makes up a vital part of the earth’s atmosphere, which is the collection of gases that makes life on earth possible. Approximately 10 to 17 kilometres above the earth’s surface, the ozone extends to approximately 50 kilometres above, residing in the part of the atmosphere known as the stratosphere. It plays a significant role in human health by absorbing harmful ultraviolet rays, protecting humans from exposure to UVA/UVB rays that can cause skin cancer, cataracts, and damage the immune system. The ozone also regulates the Earth’s temperature, making it possible for a variety of human activities (e.g. agriculture).
Three decades since the Protocol was signed, the ozone layer is slowly being regenerated. Per a 2014 report from the Ozone Secretariat, the ozone is on the path to being restored to 1980 levels by mid-century. Despite international progress, governments around the world, including Canada, need to continue to hold the international community to their commitments under the Protocol. This is particularly true in light of a 2018 investigation by the Environmental Investigation Agency, which revealed that use of CFCs has been found in foam production in China. Additionally, international action is still needed to ensure that progress continues to be made, including phasing out use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) - highly intensive source of greenhouse gases (GHGs). HFCs are a chemical compound that was developed as a response to the bans on CFCs and are highly emissions intensive. The 2016 Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol sets out a plan for the phase-out of HFCs in order to support efforts to reduce GHG emissions.
There is no doubt that caring for the ozone and understanding its importance on human health is part of our collective history. Just as decades of action on the Montreal Protocol eventually resulted in positive outcomes, there is still progress to be made. The international community needs to continue holding each other accountable to ensure we don’t regress on our progress. This is particularly true if the we would like to see any progress on the Paris Agreement commitments. Like the Montreal Protocol, Canada needs to be part of the leadership pact in both its legal commitment and actions. As one of the world’s highest per capita polluters, Canada needs to lead by example. Canadians will be responsible for holding their governments to account for long-term goals and commitments to ensure changes in government, like our recent change in Ontario, do not also mean a regression on our collective environmental goals.
Thirty one years later, the Montreal Protocol has seen great success, both in adherence and results. Let us make sure we see similar results from the Paris Agreement and its goals of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees from pre-industrial levels, so that 30 years from now we can look back on decades of success.