The Montreal Protocol

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It is possible to reach an agreement on the climate rapidly. The negotiations that led to the Montreal Protocol in 1987 showed this to be true. The aim of this protocol is to reduce and eventually eliminate substances that impoverish the ozone layer.

In 1985, scientists raised the alarm: the ozone layer above Antarctica had become dangerously thin – there is now a “hole”. This ozone layer blocks the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Without this fine film of gas, no life on Earth would be possible. While scientific data was rapidly accumulating and showed that the hole was getting larger, representatives from the main industrial countries consulted each other. Barely 2 years later in 1987, 24 countries met in Canada and adopted the Montreal treaty. It aims to eliminate the production of substances that impoverish the ozone layer: gases used by the industry as refrigerants and propellants, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). The consensus has since been adopted by 191 countries and thanks to this treaty; the ozone layer could almost get back to a normal level by 2055.

How come the Montreal Protocol was agreed to so fast but the Kyoto Protocol is still so difficult to introduce? The first reason is that the threat posed by the weakening ozone layer was clear and contiguous: the disappearance of mankind. And the findings were unanimous. The consequences of global warming are more complex and controversial. The second reason is that substances were available to replace CFCs and HCFCs. Conversely, our societies still depend on hydrocarbons and for the moment, there is no simple way to replace them on a large scale. However, as time goes by, the effects of global warming will become more prominent and the alternatives will become feasible.


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