Antidotes to Climate Apathy: Montreal Protocol

In order to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, it’s absolutely essential that we switch to a decarbonized economy. This is entirely within our power as a nation and a world: The green energy sector is rapidly growing, and in many places, is significantly more lucrative than fossil fuels. 

In order to do this successfully, global policy will have to reflect and encourage this shift, and compensate for any economic hardships caused by the transition. The Paris Agreement is a promising start, and many countries throughout the world are beginning to make green energy policy a priority, but I couldn’t help but feel that after the US backed out of the agreement, everything was falling apart. After all, what do these global agreements really achieve, and if the biggest emitters don’t follow it, what do they really mean? 

However, global climate policies actually have had success in the past, namely the Montreal Protocol. A quick history: In 1985, scientists discovered a massive hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica. The hole was caused by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a chemical compound invented in the 1920s commonly found in aerosol sprays. The hole caused an international outcry, in part because it was one of the first times humans across the world had to wrestle with the fact that their actions could destroy part of the very fabric of Earth

In 1987, the international community responded formed a united front and responded quickly and decisively. Every country in the United Nations ratified the Montreal Protocol in 1987, which initially planned to cut CFC use by 50% in 12 years, but as the protocol saw success, the goals became more and more ambitious. Thirty-two years later, the Montreal Protocol has eliminated the use of CFCs by nearly 100%. 

Now, the Montreal Protocol has a new legacy. While it called for the complete ban of CFCs, the protocol allowed hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to replace them as an ozone-friendly option. Today, we know that while HFCs may not deplete the ozone layer, they are a significant contributor to the greenhouse effect and global warming. In 2016, as part of the Paris Agreement, nations met in Kigali, Rwanda to amend the Montreal Protocol to phase out the use of HFCs as well. 

International cooperation is possible. Dean Rachel Kyte of the Fletcher School is the former CEO and UN Special Representative for Sustainable Energy for All (SEForAll), the UN organization working to achieve access to sustainable energy for all by 2030. What’s inspiring about SEForAll is that it is operating under the philosophy that the green revolution won’t just lead to climate change mitigation, but a more just society overall. Because climate change is intersectional, solutions to it should be as well and could even be an opportunity to address other existential global crises. 

So yeah, it’s rough out there: Our generation has to address and hopefully fix a climate emergency we didn’t cause. But this call to action also gives us the opportunity to fight for the world that we actually want to live in.


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