- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 24, 2009

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

What international agreement produced 10 times the climate benefits of Kyoto and could produce several times more greenhouse-gas reductions than any post-2012 climate agreement? The answer: the Montreal Protocol, which former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan described as “perhaps the most successful international agreement to date.”

Because a new climate agreement is unlikely to emerge in Copenhagen in December, it’s time to look for possible interim alternative ideas in the Montreal Protocol, which supporters call the best-kept secret in the war against climate change.

The treaty has already produced huge reductions in climate emissions — 135 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent from 1990 to 2010, according to a study conducted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and it has potential to do even more. For example, regulating hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), refrigerant chemicals that are thousands of times more potent as greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide, would result in upwards of 100 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent in climate mitigation by 2050 and a decade delay in climate change. In the first five to seven years, we could achieve cuts of about 30 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent by phasing down HFCs in mobile air conditioning. This is a substantial sum when compared with the cumulative reduction of 5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent by 2012 under Kyoto or to the most ambitious post-2012 scenario that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions in developed countries by about 7 billion metric tons by 2020.

Consequently, national delegations preparing for Copenhagen would do well to study what makes the Montreal Protocol such an environmental success, including its universal coverage, its source approach and its flexibility to evolve to reflect our changing world.

The first such feature is Montreal’s universality. Because climate change is a global problem, any agreement must include meaningful participation of the major emitters — a political requirement that has been flagged by the U.S. Senate. Unlike Kyoto or the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the protocol offers universal coverage with mandatory targets for developing and developed countries alike. Moreover, the character of the targets is the same — binding, clear and measurable - with schedules that allow for measurement of progress.

Second, the protocol’s designers included an approach focusing on the sources of specific chemicals. It also allows a coordinated approach to investment and technical assistance that speeds up reductions at a lower economic cost. This type of strategy would also aid in crafting a climate framework, because technologies and substitutes vary widely from one industry to another.

Third, though the Montreal Protocol was negotiated to address stratosphere ozone depletion, it has been implemented with the co-benefit of greenhouse-gas reduction clearly in mind. Similarly, it would assist in formulating and supporting climate policies to keep constantly in mind the co-benefit of energy security.

Finally, and most importantly, the Montreal Protocol is flexible, despite the fact that all signatories face mandatory targets. This flexibility allows the protocol to evolve with developments in science, technology and economics, allowing for adjustments and amendments that toughen or relay phase-out schedules. A fully implemented global cap-and-trade system with well-understood offset rules would provide similar flexibility for climate change. Such a regime is probably not achievable by Copenhagen, however, and the Montreal Protocol’s flexibility may provide a workable model for an interim climate agreement.

To ensure maximum flexibility, the protocol established the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP), which includes experts from governments, industry and academia. The TEAP approves exemptions that let countries use chemicals after their phase-out date if they provide adequate reasons why the substance is critical for the functioning of society or needed for health reasons. Such a mechanism in a climate framework could provide for midcourse corrections for any interim agreements that might be reached in Copenhagen.

One possible interim outcome from Copenhagen could be a number of separate understandings on individual industrial sectors without an overall binding midterm target subject to a comprehensive emissions-trading regime. Such an approach that included separate agreements covering power generation, steel, cement, aluminum and forestry, for example, could help construct a carbon market just for those sectors.

In any case, the international community should work now to strengthen the Montreal Protocol to further benefit the climate in case there is a failure to produce an effective post-2012 agreement. As it has proven in the past, the protocol can buy us even more time, as in the case of regulating HFCs, and serve as our guide star in the war against climate change.

• C. Boyden Gray is a former U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

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