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Remembering the Journey of the Montreal Protocol On World Ozone Day – Its Future and the Role of the Armed Forces

Dr Dhanasree Jayaram Thu, 16 Sep 2021   |  Reading Time: 5 minutes

The International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer – September 16 – is a reminder to the international community of the need for fostering international cooperation to tackle transnational issues. After all, this day is celebrated in commemoration of the day on which the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was signed in 1987. With the Montreal Protocol (and the preceding Vienna Convention) becoming the first treaties to achieve universal ratification in the history of the United Nations (UN), this day assumes greater significance – environmentally, scientifically, politically, economically, and in various other ways. It is important in terms of not only the successes the Montreal Protocol has achieved in protecting the ozone layer, but also highlighting the relevance of science-based collective action for addressing other challenges such as climate change.

The recovery of the ozone hole is attributed to the Montreal Protocol; and now this treaty’s attention has shifted to addressing climate change too. Nevertheless, challenges remain as the world battles a deadly pandemic and a worsening climate crisis. Importantly, these issues (both the problem and solutions) impinge upon defence planning and military security too, thereby underscoring the military’s key role in phasing out ozone depleting substances (ODS) and protecting the global commons.

A Short History of the Montreal Protocol

Before the Montreal Protocol was signed, the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer was formalized by several countries in 1985. This convention took shape in the event of the discovery of the ‘ozone hole’ or depletion of the ozone layer in the atmosphere. The depletion is mainly caused by halocarbons such as halons, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), hydrobromofluorocarbons (HBFCs), methyl bromide (CH3Br), methyl chloroform (CH3CCl3), etc. These chemicals are found in refrigerants, propellants, air conditioners, foam, fire extinguishers and so on. The stratospheric ozone layer is critical for the sustenance of life on earth as it protects human beings, plant and animal species, and other organisms from the ill-effects of ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

With the creation of the Multilateral Fund in early 1990s – involving the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), The World Bank (WB) and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) as implementing agencies – to assist developing countries to phase out ODS, the Montreal Protocol succeeded in streamlining the objectives of the treaty with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), and financial and technological requirements. This fund has been consistently replenished by the developed countries during the past three decades.

Since the signing of the Montreal Protocol, four major amendments have been made. Apart from the phase-out of CFCs, halons, carbon tetrachloride and methyl chloroform by 2000 in developed countries and by 2010 in developing countries, as per the London Amendment (1990), the Copenhagen Amendment (1992) led to the inclusion of HCFCs, HBFCs and CH3Br in the phase-out schedules; the Beijing Amendment (1999), bromochloromethane; and the Kigali Amendment (2016), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). All these amendments also follow the principle of CBDR, in recognition of the developing countries’ financial and technological requirements, and differentiated phase-out schedules. As per these schedules, the majority of countries have successfully phased out the production and consumption of several ODS, including CFCs and HCFCs.

Why is the Montreal Protocol Important for the Military?

The armed forces in general are a major user of ODS. Halons are used for fire-fighting in the Crash Fire Tenders and as fire suppressants on every aircraft in the air force. Similarly, in the navy and army, they are employed in fire-fighting operations in ships/submarines and motorised armoured carriers respectively. ODS are also used in various defence establishments and applications. With the gradual phase-out of various ODS internationally (and in India too), there has been massive push for stockpiling/banking and recycling halons, and shifting to ozone-friendly alternatives within the militaries. Many militaries have been able to replace CFCs and halons with HFCs in newer equipment, such as armoured fighting vehicles. Yet challenges remain as most military/defence applications and operations, especially in developing countries, continue to be highly dependent on ODS, since retrofitting or replacing the existing equipment and/or refrigerants, as well as ensuring efficiency, maintenance, optimum performance, and safety in high-risk spaces have proven to be difficult to achieve.

The UNEP has recommended some useful phase-out strategies for the military. These include – reducing the purchase of new ODS if alternatives are available; coordinating with the industry to secure alternatives; undertaking training for military personnel; sharing of knowledge on best practices among countries; rigorous monitoring, review, and assessment of phase-out strategies and time tables; and taking into account ODS phase-out in military budget planning, among others. The targets for HCFC control measures and the upcoming targets for phase-out of HFCs (under the Kigali amendment) gather urgency for the armed forces, including that of India. For them to be ready to face this challenge, their efforts have to be aligned to their respective country phase-out plans. The involvement of military organisations in the ODS phase-out plan is an imperative when seen in light of the lessons learnt during the management of the CFC phase-out process, wherein the armed forces in most countries (including India) were late entrants (due to national security-related concerns) and thus required additional support. Engaging the militaries in these processes is of utmost importance not only due to their large ‘bootprint’ (as they are one of the largest consumers of ODS), but also their capacity to lead a whole-of-government approach to implementing the treaty at the national level.

The Future of the Montreal Protocol and Lessons for Climate Policy

The Montreal Protocol has ushered in several co-benefits (apart from ozone protection) – retarding climate change, and enhancing energy efficiency, food and health security, etc. For instance, the decision to phase out HFCs has been taken in view of their high global warming potential (GWP). The HFCs were adopted as alternatives to HCFCs as the latter have high ozone depleting potential (ODP). In the future, the focus will be on the use of substances that have minimal impact on both the ozone and climate. In fact, most ODS also have high GWP. For this reason, there are increasing synergies between the international conventions to protect the ozone and climate. Moreover, many sectors are already using alternatives such as propane, isobutene, and ammonia. In fact, these synergies between various issues have led to the declaration of this year’s theme as – “Montreal Protocol – Keeping us, our food and vaccines cool.” Now, more than ever before, the importance of eco-friendly cold storage has become critical. Amidst the pandemic and vaccination drives across the world, an eco-friendly vaccine cold chain holds the key to sustainable health policy.

Under the Kigali Amendment, India is expected to “complete its phase down of HFCs in 4 steps from 2032 onwards with cumulative reduction of 10% in 2032, 20% in 2037, 30% in 2042 and 85% in 2047.” It has already rolled out a HCFC phase-out plan for the period 2017-23. The government and industry need to invest in research and development (R&D) to develop and acquire cutting-edge technologies. India can join hands with some of the other leaders in R&D in this sector, such as the United States (US) and European Union (EU), and adopt cost-effective measures and steer the world towards leapfrogging (through innovation policies) to avoid multiple conversions.

One of the oft-cited reasons for the success of the Montreal Protocol is its fundamental basis – science-policy interface, designed and executed by a conglomeration of scientific and policy communities, and other important stakeholders such as the industry, environmental organizations, and technical experts. Not only did it follow a principle of ‘precautionary principle’ (even when there were gaps in the science), but also it paved the way for the industry to engage in long-term innovation. What is perhaps most crucial is the compliance mechanism of the treaty that is “non-punitive” in nature, and is sufficiently supported by various institutional mechanisms, including the Multilateral Fund. Besides, institution-building for information sharing and capacity building (such as through National Ozone Units and Regional Networks of Ozone Officers) and trade provisions (that prevent ODS trade with non-parties and make it inevitable for them to join) have also ensured a rather smooth working of the treaty. Most importantly, persistent educational and awareness campaigns run by the UN agencies (particularly the UNEP), scientists, environmental groups, and others led to genuine changes in consumer choices in many countries.

Although these lessons cannot be entirely applied to climate change policy as addressing ozone depletion did not necessitate a systemic overhaul, there is scope for bolstering the science-policy interface, which has been hampered despite an overwhelming scientific consensus. Similarly, effective institutionalisation, sustained climate finance, broader industrial engagement, and constant advocacy and public can undoubtedly create a ripple effect and bring long-term changes in the system.

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Author
Dr Dhanasree Jayaram is an Assistant Professor, Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, and Co-coordinator, Centre for Climate Studies, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Karnataka, India. She is also a Research Fellow, Earth System Governance and Member, Climate Security Expert Network. She holds a PhD in Geopolitics and International Relations from MAHE. She pursued a visiting fellowship (Erasmus Mundus – short-term PhD) at Leiden University, the Netherlands during 2014-15; and a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, under the Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship during 2018-19. She is the author of “Breaking out of the Green House: Indian Leadership in Times of Environmental Change” (2012), and “Climate Diplomacy and Emerging Economies: India as a Case Study” (2021).

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