Kofi Annan on the “most successful” Montreal Protocol

Annan’s report to the Millennium Assembly of the United Nations cited sustainability as a key challenge.

I have found the source for that wonderful quote from former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, which I give here in full:

Kofi Annan extolled the success of the Montreal Protocol.
Kofi Annan extolled the success of the Montreal Protocol.

“Perhaps the single most successful international environmental agreement to date has been the Montreal Protocol, in which states accepted the need to phase out the use of ozone-depleting substances.”

It was from Annan’s presentation to the Millennium Assembly of the United Nations in September 2000 titled “We the peoples: the role of the United Nations in the twenty-first century”. From the accompanying press release:

“The report is the most comprehensive presentation of the mission of the United Nations in its 55-year history, containing numerous specific goals and programme initiatives the Secretary-General will ask world leaders attending the Summit to consider.”

Part 5 of Annan’s report on “Sustaining our future” deals with environmental issues. Although Annan celebrated the success of the Montreal Protocol, in the very next breath he wrote

“Nevertheless, we must face up to an inescapable reality: the challenges of sustainability simply overwhelm the adequacy of our responses. With some honourable exceptions, our responses are too few, too little and too late.”

Toward developing more appropriate responses, he highlighted the positive role that both government and industry can play – and have played – in environmental stewardship:

“Only governments can create and enforce environmental regulations, and devise more environment-friendly incentives for markets to respond to. To cite but one example, governments can make markets work for the environment by cutting the hundreds of billions of dollars that subsidize environmentally harmful activities each and every year. Another is by making greater use of “green taxes”, based on the “polluter pays” principle.

Creating new incentives also encourages the emergence of entirely new industries, devoted to achieving greater energy efficiency and other environment-friendly practices. The success of the Montreal Protocol, for instance, has created a large market for ozone-safe refrigerators and air conditioners. Nothing would be more foolish than neglecting the enormously positive role the private sector can play in promoting environmental change."

(emphasis mine). He also wrote:

“It is impossible to devise effective environmental policy unless it is based on sound scientific information”.

There is a lot to reflect on here, especially given everything that has happened since. Progress has been stymied on many fronts, particularly climate change. We need to find new ways of addressing pressing environmental problems, internationally, nationally and locally.

Box 8 from the Millennium Report

Protecting the ozone layer: an environmental success story

In the early 1970s evidence had accumulated showing that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were damaging the ozone layer in the stratosphere and increasing the amount of ultraviolet B (UV-B) radiation reaching Earth’s surface. Since the ozone layer protects humans, animals and plants from the damaging effects of UV-B radiation, the steady increase in CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances constituted a major potential health hazard. But it took a decade and a half of increasingly intensive effort to achieve an agreement that would resolve the problem.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was a landmark international environmental agreement. It has been remarkably successful. Production of the most damaging ozone-depleting substances was eliminated, except for a few critical uses, by 1996 in developed countries and should be phased out by 2010 in developing countries. Without the Protocol the levels of ozone-depleting substances would have been five times higher than they are today, and surface UV-B radiation levels would have doubled at mid-latitudes in the northern hemisphere. On current estimates the CFC concentration in the ozone layer is expected to recover to pre-1980 levels by the year 2050.

Prior to the Protocol intergovernmental negotiations on their own failed to mobilize sufficient support for the far-reaching measures that were needed. But intensive lobbying by civil society organizations, the presentation of overwhelming scientific evidence — and the discovery of the huge ozone hole over Antarctica — eventually created the consensus necessary for the agreement to be signed.