A critical review of the successful CFC phase-out versus the delayed methyl bromide phase-out in the Montreal Protocol

Abstract

The Montreal Protocol is often described as an international environmental agreement par excellence. After all, it successfully led to the phase-out of almost 95% of all chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) use. A critical review of the Protocol’s history, however, suggests that its successes are deeply entrenched in the economic opportunities that were made available to phase out CFCs. The Montreal Protocol, in other words, was a “best-case scenario” for CFC producers. This may be problematic for policymakers, ecological modernization practitioners, and other scholars who look to the Montreal Protocol for guidance in phasing out other global environmentally harmful substances and practices that are not as “economically efficient.” The shift to delay the phasing out of methyl bromide (MeBr) in the Protocol, an ozone-depleting substance used to this day primarily in strawberry and tomato production, demonstrates how even this most successful of international environmental agreements can become subject to significant setbacks when economic gains and scientific evidence are not obvious to the global powers. Furthermore, changes in what constitutes a viable exemption to the phase-out of CFCs versus MeBr marks a shift away from concern for the general functioning/welfare of society, and toward concern for the market performance of specific individuals. This shift runs parallel to a lack in economic incentives to phase out MeBr in the United States. The article demonstrates how civil society representation in ozone politics is largely dominated by industry interests, especially when scientific uncertainty is high.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    http://www.theozonehole.com/montreal.htm.

  2. 2.

    It must be noted that recent works in ecological modernization, such as Mol et al. (2009) indeed illustrate the influence that the nation-state maintains in international environmental agreements.

  3. 3.

    Parson makes the interesting observation that this was the first time that a chemical’s inertness, and not its reactivity, was a serious environmental threat. That CFCs could remain non-reactive until they reached the stratosphere was the very attribute that threatened life worldwide (Parson 2003, p. 32).

  4. 4.

    By 1984, the U.S. reversed its position again: “The United States, previously the most forceful advocate of binding and compulsory arbitration, had reversed its position after being sued in the World Court for mining Nicaragua’s harbors and losing its procedural bid to avoid the court’s jurisdiction” (Parson 2003, p. 121).

  5. 5.

    http://ozone.unep.org/Ratification_status/.

  6. 6.

    Synthesis Report, UNEP/OZL.Pro.WG.II(1)/4 (89-1-11) p. 9.

  7. 7.

    Interview with the author at the 16th MOP, Prague, 22 November 2004.

  8. 8.

    QPS uses are currently exempt from phase-out under the Montreal Protocol.

  9. 9.

    Final Report of the 7th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Both environmental groups and—later and anonymously—members of MBTOC criticized the 1995–1998 average given to developing countries, worried that it would increase consumption of MeBr over that period in order to get the base level at a higher level. It is likely true that this happened, and, as Parson relates, it likely benefited the chemical companies greatly, who were responsible for up to 85 percent of ODS usage in places like Thailand (2003, p. 231, fn. 187).

  10. 10.

    Final Report of the Ninth Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

  11. 11.

    http://www.epa.gov/ozone/MeBr_exec_summary.pdf.

  12. 12.

    On July 6, 2005, the E.U. published a notice of initiation of a safeguard investigation concerning imports of frozen strawberries from the Chinese mainland. The issue was raised by Poland, which complained that China imports could endanger its domestic production (USDA Foreign Agricultural Service 2005: 4).

  13. 13.

    For a more complete account of the global competition in strawberries, please see Gareau (2008b).

  14. 14.

    Claudia McMurray, U.S. Delegation, 15th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, 14 November 2003, Nairobi, tape-recorded notes.

Abbreviations

CFCs:

Chlorofluorocarbons

CUE:

Critical use exemption

EPA:

United States Environmental Protection Agency

HCFCs:

Hydrochlorofluorocarbons

MBTOC:

Methyl bromide Technical Options Committee

MeBr:

Methyl bromide

MOP:

Meeting of the parties to the Montreal Protocol

NASA:

U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration

NGO:

Non-governmental organization

ODS:

Ozone-depleting substance

ODP:

Ozone-depleting potential

TEAP:

Technology and Economics Assessment Panel

UNEP:

United Nations Environmental Programme

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Acknowledgments

Thanks are due to Wally Goldfrank, Ronnie Lipschutz, E. Melanie DuPuis, Ben Crow, John Borrego, Harro van Asselt, and two anonymous referees for their exceptional advice on the preparation of this manuscript. Funding for this research was provided by the University of California STEPS Institute for Innovation in Environmental Research, the University of California Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, the University of California Pacific Rim Research Program, and the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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Gareau, B.J. A critical review of the successful CFC phase-out versus the delayed methyl bromide phase-out in the Montreal Protocol. Int Environ Agreements 10, 209–231 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10784-010-9120-z

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Keywords

  • Montreal Protocol
  • CFCs
  • Critical use exemptions
  • Ecological modernization
  • Global civil society
  • Individualism
  • Methyl bromide
  • Neoliberalism