About a week ago, I was in a taxi headed for The Hague train station to catch the Thalys that would take me back to Paris. The overcast sky with intermittent drizzles reminded me of Parisian weather. Just a few hours back, The Hague had experienced its first snow fall of the winter. The taxi driver, from Suriname, talked about 'climate change' and made Dutch monologues, which seemed to signal that he was not sure of what is happening. I had spent most of that day discussing that same subject in a different context with an informal group of experts from around the world called the 'Stockholm Group.' The context of that meeting was , among other things, relation between the Montreal and Kyoto Protocols.
While waiting for my train, I settled in one of those station cafes. To kill time, I opened my laptop and googled 'Montreal Protocol' and got about 1.04 million references. Then I googled the much talked-about 'Kyoto Protocol' and not surprisingly I got about 1.2 million references. Out of inquisitiveness I decided , then, to google the term 'Montreal and Kyoto Protocol'. Interestingly, that only gave me about 9000 references.
I realized that the number of references that pop up on Google is no indicator of the importance of that subject. The linkage between the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and the Kyoto Protocol on climate change will soon be taking a critical place in the international scenario on the international governance of the Multilateral Environment Agreements.
Curiously, the first time the experts started talking about the links between the two atmospheric Protocols was in the context of conflicts between the two Protocols arising out of the use of HFCs (hydrofluorocarbon gases). HFCs are the substitutes for CFCs which are not ozone depleting but are global warming. So, the issue was rightly raised: we are solving one problem through the Montreal Protocol but at the same time, we are adding to another environmental problem of global warming. The expert group was convened under IPCC and TEAP to review this issue. I was the lead author coordinating the report. The outcome of that assessment is much more than what we understood till then about the linkage between the Montreal and Kyoto Protocol.
Now the experts are discussing, analyzing and concluding how the Montreal Protocol is contributing in very significant ways to mitigate the climate change. Firstly, CFCs and other ozone depleting substances like, halons, HCFCs and CTC are global warming. Their global warming potential is 100 to 10,000 times more than carbon dioxide. More than 2 million tonnes of such chemicals have been phased out over the last two decades as a result of the Montreal Protocol. Where HFCs are being used as substitutes, the energy efficiencies of many of the appliances have improved. In such cases use of HFCs becomes climate friendly. It is not only emissions of the gases per se that should be the determining factor for the ozone and climate friendly chemicals, but the life cycle analysis of use of such gases that are now recommended. The policy setting needs to build on such sustainable development tools.
A presentation (the detailed paper will be published in the reputed science journal next month after peer review,) made by Dr Velders of Netherlands's Environmental Assessment Agency in The Hague meeting was quite revealing. It showed that over all benefits by 2010 of the implementation of the Montreal Protocol would be the reduction in the range of 10 to 12 giga tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year even after counting the off set of use of HFCs. This is an extraordinary contribution of the Montreal Protocol for the cause of climate change. Just for the comparison, what the Kyoto Protocol has set as a target of reduction of just about 1 giga tonnes of the carbon dioxide equivalent per year for the average of years 2008 to 2012, the Montreal Protocol contribution is 10 times more than what the world community agreed in 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated.
It is therefore time that the world realizes that technology has tremendous potential to innovate, and many times policy makers fail to factor that in. This is the story that needs to be told to a wider audience.