An Eye on Paris Ozone meeting, a step forward to earth protection

written by Stefano Zenobi 

Last Monday, 17th November, the twenty-sixth meeting of the parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone layer has started in Paris. This is something that is likely to be neglected by media and public attention given the amazing results of the phase out of Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) realized during the past years and the more urgent and critical climate change issue. Yet, an amendment proposed by the Federated States of Micronesia may make the meeting an historical turning point both for ozone protection and for climate change mitigation.
Before getting to the point it is worthy to get the Montreal Protocol better. The Montreal Protocol (1987) is the direct follower of the Vienna Convention for the protection of the Ozone layer (1985). The Vienna Convention acts as a framework for the ozone protection and it is not legally binding for the countries. The practical phase out is thus left to the Montreal Protocol which comprises a fewer number of countries. These two treaties are mile stones in the history of multilateral environmental agreement and the most successful treaties of all the time as they were ratified by 196 countries so becoming the first universally ratified treaties in the history of the United Nations.
The Montreal Protocol has been an effective mechanism for the phasing out of ODSs; in 2010 already scientists found that the ozone layer was not depleting any further and they were expecting the recovery to start. The strategy of the Protocol has been simple. Developed countries committed into starting the phasing out of the ODSs while developing countries were given more time for that. The ratio was that developed countries had the capabilities to developed new, alternative technologies. Later on, developing countries could adopt them reducing their dependence on ODSs in a cost effective way also helped by the financial support of the developed countries of the Montreal Protocol. This has proven to be very effective and nowadays it became the model for all sorts of agreements of this type.
As mentioned before, the Montreal Protocol has been effective in phasing out the ODSs. HCFC and CFC (hydrochlorofluorocarbons and chlorofluorocarbons) are no longer included in most of the products available in the market. However, those products are still necessary for our daily life; they are, in a broader sense, refrigeration and air conditioning technologies. Practically speaking, ODSs have been substituted with other artificial refrigerants, among them the HFC (hydrofluorocarbons). However, it happens to be that HFC are weak ozone depleting substances but powerful greenhouse gases. In fact, HFC have a warming potential which is thousands of times higher than the carbon dioxide one and their production, consumption and emissions are expected to grow rapidly, reaching levels in 2050 10 times higher than the present. The Federated States of Micronesia is proposing to include the phase down of HFC under the scope of the Montreal Protocol for ozone protection. 
The goal of the amendment is hence that the effectiveness of the Protocol will work also in this case and thus benefitting the ozone layer protection but mainly the climate change mitigation. The capabilities, the institutions and the people are already available for this. There is the potential for the Paris meeting to become the first significant step in the worldwide fight against climate change.