Lessons for Modern Diplomacy
The problem of protecting the stratospheric ozone layer presented an unusual challenge to both scientists and diplomats. Neither military power nor economic might were relevant factors. It required neither great wealth nor sophisticated technology to produce large quantities of ozone-destroying chemicals. Traditional notions of national sovereignty become questionable when local decisions and activities can affect the well-being of the entire planet. The very nature of ozone depletion meant that no single country or group of countries, however powerful, could effectively solve the problem. Without far-ranging scientific, political, and economic cooperation, the efforts of any individual nation to protect the ozone layer would be vitiated.
The Montreal Protocol was by no means inevitable; knowledgeable observers had long believed it would be impossible to achieve. The ozone negotiators confronted formidable political, economic, and psychological obstacles. The dangers of ozone depletion could touch every nation and all life on earth over periods far beyond politicians' normal time horizons. But although the potential consequences were grave, they could neither be measured nor predicted with certitude when the diplomats began their work. The concept was not obvious: a perfume spray used in Paris could contribute to destroying a remote gas in the stratosphere and thereby bring about skin cancer deaths and species extinctions half a world distant and several generations into the future.
Against this background, industrial interests initially claimed that new regulations would cause severe and unnecessary economic hardship. Technological solutions were either nonexistent or were considered unacceptable by most major nations. Some governments allowed commercial self-interest to influence their interpretations of the science: uncertainty was used as an excuse for delaying decisions. Some political leaders were prepared to accept speculative long-term environmental risks rather than to impose the tangible near-term costs entailed in limiting products seen as important contributors to a modern standard of living. Short-range political and economic concerns were, therefore, formidable obstacles to cooperative international action based upon the theory of ozone-depletion.
Nevertheless, the international community was ultimately successful in its approach to defending the stratospheric ozone layer. This experience suggests several elements of the new diplomacy that is needed to address global ecological threats.
- Scientists must assume a critical new role in international negotiations.
Without modern science and technology, the world would have remained unaware of an ozone problem until it was too late. Science became the driving force behind ozone policy. Research in support of the ozone protocol was a truly multidisciplinary effort, involving stratospheric chemists, physical chemists, meteorologists, oceanographers, biologists, engineers of all types, soil chemists, agronomists, toxicologists, botanists, oncologists, entomologists, and more. The formation of a commonly accepted body of data and analyses and the narrowing of ranges of uncertainty were prerequisites to a political solution among initially widely separated national interests.
In effect, a community of scientists from many nations, dedicated to scientific objectivity, developed through their research a common concern for protecting the planet’s ozone layer that transcended divergent national allegiances. Close collaboration between scientists and key government officials, who also became convinced of the long-term dangers to the ozone layer, ultimately prevailed over more parochial and short-run interests. Governments must sponsor relevant research, while, for their part, scientists must assume responsibility for analyzing the implications of their findings for alternative response strategies.
- Political leaders may need to act even while there are still scientific ambiguities, based on a responsible balancing of the risks and costs of delay.
Unfortunately, current tools of economic analysis are not adequate for this task and can be deceptive indicators; they are in urgent need of reform. The customary methods of measuring national income do not satisfactorily reflect ecological costs – especially those far in the future. Politicians should nevertheless resist the tendency to assign excessive credibility to self-serving economic interests that demand scientific certainty, and who insist that, because dangers are remote, they are therefore unlikely. By the time the evidence on such issues as ozone layer depletion and climate change is beyond dispute, the damage could be irreversible and it may be too late to avoid serious harm to human life and draconian future costs to society. The signatories at Montreal risked imposing substantial short-run economic dislocations even though the evidence was incomplete; the prudence of their decision was demonstrated when the scientific models turned out to have actually underestimated prospective ozone depletion.
- A well-informed public opinion can generate pressure for action by hesitant politicians and private companies.
The findings of scientists must be interpreted and communicated to a wider public. The interest of the media in the ozone issue and the use of television and press by U.S. diplomats, environmental groups, and legislators through Congressional hearings in the 1970s, greatly influenced public opinion and governmental decisions. Informed and aroused consumers brought about the collapse of the CFC aerosol market in America. It is worth noting that the proponents of ozone layer protection generally avoided invoking apocalypse in their educational efforts; they resisted the temptation to overstate their case in order to capture public attention. Exaggerated pronouncements and selective use of scientific data can damage credibility and make it easier for interest groups that want to prevent or delay action.
- Strong leadership by major countries and/or institutions can be a significant force in mobilizing an international consensus.
UNEP helped to coordinate early research efforts, informed world public opinion, and played a crucial catalytic and mediating role during the negotiating and implementation phases of the protocol. UNEP also provided an objective international forum, free of the time-consuming debates on extraneous political issues that often interfere with the work of UN bodies.
United States political, scientific, and diplomatic leadership also proved critical before, during and after the ozone negotiations. No single country, however, can prevail; alliances must be forged, including those between North and South. On the ozone issue, the U.S. government actively collaborated on policy with Canada and the like-minded Toronto Group of nations. The U.S. also financed substantial domestic and international scientific research. Together with its allies, it developed a strategy for protecting the ozone layer and then promoted international acceptance with ingenuity and tenacity. Because of its population size, geographic expanse, and economic and scientific strength, the United States can have a great positive influence on finding solutions to global issues.
- A leading country or group of countries can take preemptive environmental protection measures, even in advance of a global agreement.
Such actions can slow dangerous trends and thus buy time for future negotiations and for development of technological solutions. Preemptive measures can serve to legitimize change and thereby undercut the arguments of those who argue that change is impossible. The ban on aerosols by the U.S., Canada and others in the late 1970s relieved pressure on the ozone layer and lent greater moral credibility to our campaign, several years later, for even more stringent global controls.
Although unilateral environmental protection measures might, in the short run, adversely affect a country's international competitiveness, it can also, through stimulating research into alternative technologies, give that nation’s industry a head start on the future. Moreover, short-term negative impacts can, if necessary, be offset by trade restrictions against products of trading partners that are not subject to comparable environmental controls. During the ozone protocol negotiations, the U.S. Congress threatened such action.
- Both nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and industry are major participants in the new diplomacy.
NGOs involved in multilateral negotiations now include not only environmental groups, but also organizations representing local governments, women, labor, agriculture, religion, youth, indigenous peoples, academic and research institutions, and more. Since the preparations during the early 1990s for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the 1992 Rio de Janeiro “Earth Summit”), these groups now comprise an international network, Linked electronically, they regularly consult, coordinate positions, and work jointly to influence government positions and negotiations.
The activities of both industry and citizens' groups in research, publicizing data, and lobbying governments influenced the international debate on the ozone layer. Environmental organizations also play a supportive role in monitoring compliance by government and industry with international commitments. The financial and intellectual resources of the private sector make its involvement and cooperation indispensable, since society ultimately depends on industry to provide the technological solutions.
- The effectiveness of a regulatory agreement is enhanced when it employs realistic market incentives to encourage technological innovation.
Technology is dynamic, and not, as often implied by those who resist change, a static element. If the market is left completely on its own, however, it may not necessarily bring forth the right technologies for environmental protection. Although the 1987 ozone protocol established targets that were initially beyond the reach of existing best-available technologies, the goals were in fact achievable for most of industry – thereby averting monolithic industrial opposition that might have delayed international action.
The Montreal Protocol was not, as some ideologues charged, a “radical” treaty. On the contrary, it was an expression of faith in the market system. By getting the protocol on the books with a goal of 50 percent reductions, the negotiators effectively signaled the marketplace that research into solutions would now be profitable. Competitive – and collaborative – forces then took over, and solutions were developed much sooner, and at lower cost, than had earlier been anticipated. The Montreal Protocol stimulated a virtual technological revolution in the international chemical, telecommunications, pharmaceutical, and numerous other industries.
- Economic and structural inequalities between North and South must be adequately reflected in an international regulatory regime.
In the longer run, the developing countries, with their huge and growing populations, could undermine efforts both to protect the ozone layer and to forestall global climate change. They did not cause these problems, and the rich nations that were responsible must now help them to implement the necessary environmental policies without sacrificing their aspirations for combating poverty and improving standards of living. For many developing countries, the Montreal Protocol process provided the first intensive exposure to environmental problems, leading to the development of internal capacity to deal with other environmental challenges.
Under the leadership of UNEP, the parties to the Montreal Protocol broke new ground in developing and implementing mechanisms for providing reasonable financial assistance and transferring the needed technology, while preserving intellectual property rights and incentives for private entrepreneurship. Such unique features as the first-ever multilateral environment fund, incremental cost funding, balanced voting procedures, public-private partnerships for promoting capacity building and technology transfer, and a sensitive compliance mechanism, all represented an innovative new approach to North-South relations.
- The size and format of a negotiation may significantly influence the results.
It is worth noting that the 1986-87 ozone negotiations, which produced the first and most innovative breakthroughs, were remarkably small in attendance and short in duration by today’s standards. The first one-week negotiating round in 1986 was attended by merely 20 nations and three or four NGOs. Just nine months later, at the decisive Montreal conference, there were still only about 60 delegations. Contrast this with the theatrical atmosphere of contemporary two-week global environmental mega-conferences and negotiations on climate and similar issues, which drag on for years. Thousands of official delegates from over 180 nations are outnumbered by even more thousands of nongovernmental observers and media. Scores of ministers and international agency heads add to the extravaganza.
The U.S. delegation at the Kyoto climate protocol negotiations in 2000 consisted of over 150 representatives from 12 different government agencies; other major countries, and even some NGOs, had comparably outsized delegations – exceeding the total number of participants from all countries at the ozone negotiations preceding Montreal! In addition, legions of NGO observers stage noisy and sometimes even violent demonstrations at the conference site, and provide the avid media with sharp critiques of the official proceedings. Indeed, the atmosphere at recent global negotiations seems to place a premium on short-term political sound bites rather than on sober reflection and reasoned debate of very complicated long-term issues. Yet, there is no law that states that every aspect of complex scientific and environmental problems must be addressed by every nation at the same time and in the same forum, in an overheated atmosphere of public scrutiny. Perhaps this is one lesson from the Montreal Protocol history that has not been learned.
- Finally, the signing of a treaty is not necessarily the decisive event in a negotiation; the process before and after ratification is critical.
The Montreal Protocol broke new ground in its planning process. The complicated ozone protection issue was deliberated separated into manageable components, and informal collaborative efforts – scientific workshops, policy conferences, ad hoc consultations – established an environment conducive to building personal relationships and generating creative ideas. Extensive scientific and diplomatic groundwork thus enabled the subsequent formal negotiations to move forward relatively rapidly.
Unlike traditional international treaties that attempt to cement a status quo, the Montreal Protocol was deliberately designed to become a dynamic and flexible instrument. The proponents of strong controls were pragmatic: we did not insist on an ideal solution that might have unnecessarily prolonged the negotiations. Instead, we emphasized getting a reasonable agreement in place that could serve as a springboard for future action. The 1987 protocol did not attempt to predetermine every future step: many important issues were marked, but left open for future resolution, including the financial mechanism, trade restrictions, and compliance procedures. In subsequent negotiations, whenever there were large disagreements, every attempt was made to reach consensus rather than bludgeon the minority. A useful and repeated technique was for the parties to commission studies by outside experts, gradually building up the weight of scientific and technical analysis and illuminating the policy options. When differences remained, instead of postponing action the treaty moved forward with modest short steps, which sent the right signals to industry and set stage for future stronger measures.
By providing for periodic scientific, environmental, economic, and technological assessments by independent expert panels, the negotiators made the treaty adaptable to evolving conditions. Indeed, the essence of the Montreal Protocol is that, far from being a static solution, it constitutes an ongoing process.
Ultimately, it seems to me that the ozone treaty has defied the efforts of a generation of academics to produce connect-the-numbers guides to successful global negotiation. Although it is useful to analyze, in retrospect, successful negotiating factors and techniques, real negotiations are both richer and more treacherous than academic models. One can offer some “lessons” – as this list of items attempts to do – but there is no guarantee that things will work out. Impasses are not always destined to be resolved.
The crucial intangible factor is leadership, by governments and by individuals. Individuals can make a surprisingly significant difference in the course of long and difficult negotiations. From the overall leadership on ozone provided by UNEP's Mostafa Tolba, to the roles of individual scientists, negotiators, environmentalists, and industrialists, it was personal ideas, decisions, and actions at a given critical moment that determined the successful outcome. In the final account, diplomacy still remains more of an art than a science. Much depends on serendipity, and on the right people being in the right place at the right time.
In conclusion, in the realm of international relations there will always be resistance to change, and there will always be uncertainties – scientific, political, economic, psychological. Faced with a new generation of global environmental threats, governments must act while some major questions remain unresolved. In achieving the Montreal accord, consensus was forged and decisions were made on a balancing of probabilities – and the risks of waiting for more complete evidence were finally deemed to be too great. In the real world of ambiguity and imperfect knowledge, the Montreal Protocol may hopefully be the forerunner of an evolving partnership between scientists and policy makers, as sovereign nations seek ways of dealing with uncertain dangers and accepting common responsibility for stewardship of planet Earth.
Annex A: Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer
Summary of Provisions
(as signed on September 16, 1987)
- Controlled substances include CFCs 11, 12, 113, 114, and 115, and halons 1211, 1301, and 2402. For purposes of calculating control levels, the production, imports, and exports of each chemical are weighted by an individual ozone depletion potential estimated for each chemical.
- Entry into force (EIF) requires at least eleven signatory nations representing at least two-thirds of estimated 1986 global consumption of controlled substances.
- Consumption and production of CFCs will be frozen at 1986 levels beginning six months after the date of EIF. (Consumption is defined as production plus imports minus exports to parties.)
- Consumption and production of halons will be frozen at 1986 levels beginning three years after EIF.
- Consumption and production of CFCs will be reduced to 80 percent of 1986 levels beginning in the period July 1993 to June 1994.
- Consumption and production of CFCs will be further reduced to 50 percent of 1986 levels beginning in the period July 1998 to June 1999.
- An additional 10 percent of production will be allowed for purposes of supplying developing nations until June 30, 1998. On July 1, 1998, this percentage will increase to 15 percent.
- Low-consuming developing nations are allowed to increase consumption up to 0.3 kilograms per capita for a period of ten years in order to meet "basic domestic needs." After ten years, the developing nations must follow the reduction schedule.
- Scientific, environmental, economic, and technological assessments by independent expert panels will be made beginning in 1990 and at least every four years thereafter.
- Import of any controlled substance in bulk from nonparty states is prohibited beginning one year after EIF. Import from nonparty states of products containing CFCs is banned beginning four years after EIF.
- Within five years after EIF, parties will determine the feasibility of banning or restricting trade in products made with CFCs.
- Canceling the 50 percent reduction step would require a vote of two-thirds of parties together representing at least two-thirds of the calculated level of consumption of all parties to the protocol.
- Other adjustments and reductions require a vote of two-thirds of parties together representing at least 50 percent of consumption.
- Addition of new controlled substances to the agreement requires a simple majority of two-thirds of the parties.
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