Ozone Editorial

Our Planet - Ozone



United Nations Under-Secretary General
and Executive Director, UNEP


As we observe the tenth anniversary of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer it is important to recognize that it was the first global treaty ever in which countries agreed to impose significant costs on their economies in order to protect the global atmosphere. The Montreal Protocol was the fruit of a truly collaborative global effort. Although UNEP provided the impetus, it was the contributions of many others - in defining the issues and bringing to bear a wealth of information, research experience and seasoned judgement in their fields of expertise - that finally clinched the issue.

The Protocol need not be judged narrowly in terms of success or failure of the implementation of its provisions. Its achievements must be evaluated in terms of the process that it signified and those it may have set in motion. The Montreal Protocol accelerated the evolution of the concept of sustainable development by establishing the link between environment and development with due consideration for future generations. It demonstrated the importance of the precautionary approach to global environmental issues - a major precedent for the Conventions on Biological Diversity and Climate Change. It led to the establishment of international institutional frameworks to address global environmental issues and influenced the adoption of the principle of differentiated obligations - while all countries have responsibilities towards the global environment, the industrialized nations must take the lead in committing financial and technological resources, on account of their greater historical and current use of the world's resources as well as their greater present capabilities.

The achievements of the Montreal Protocol have been considerable. Let me highlight a few: 162 countries have ratified the Protocol, 118 of which are developing countries. Even though these countries are mandated by the Protocol to begin freezing their consumption of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) only in 1999, 86 of them have already drafted Country Programmes for phasing them out. Projects are on the ground for phasing out 50,000 tonnes of ODS, nearly one-third of developing-country consumption. The Multilateral Fund has so far disbursed more than half a billion dollars to developing countries. The Parties have agreed to allocate to the Multilateral Fund a further 540 million dollars for the period 1997-1999.

Controls on ODS have been tightened. The year 1996 saw the cessation of production and consumption of ODS in all industrialized countries, except for small essential uses. The diminishing worldwide consumption of ODS - nearly 75 per cent during the last seven years - has led to a simultaneous decline in the growth rate of these substances in the atmosphere.

Despite these impressive successes we must not become complacent. The debate on the ozone layer has not ebbed. While earlier efforts focused on defining a general approach to protecting the ozone layer, we now face numerous difficulties in implementation. Industry faces the challenge of a rapid shift to less damaging processes and products while simultaneously having to minimize atmospheric release from existing equipment. National licensing systems for imports and exports of ODS and for trade in new, used, reclaimed or recycled substances have to be established and maintained to curb illegal trade in ODS. The use of new uncontrolled ODS should be prohibited as well as the marketing in developing countries of controlled ODS. Let's face it: from this point, it is in developing countries that specific action to save the ozone layer must be taken. Rapid economic growth in some of these countries has been accompanied by a simultaneous increase in ODS consumption which, if not checked, is slated to double every seven years and very soon reach the level of consumption attained by the developed countries before the phase-out began. The situation in countries with economies in transition also continues to pose specific problems. Clearly the ozone layer will heal early only if the phase-out of all ODS occurs on an urgent basis.

The Montreal Protocol was an historic beginning, but equally it was just a beginning. As we congratulate ourselves on the Protocol's tenth anniversary, we must also seek assurances that the Protocol that has been ratified by so many countries is essentially a time-bound process of phasing out ODS by all countries. We must remain vigilant to this purpose.

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