Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer

Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer


In 1974, research scientists Mario J. Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland published the results of their path-breaking research into atmospheric chemistry concerning the formation and decomposition of ozone, for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1995.

Their research exposed the sensitivity of, and threat to, the ozone layer from the use of certain synthetic compounds, in particular, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). These were being commonly used in air conditioners, as propellants in spray cans, as a cooling medium for refrigerators, degreasing solvents for cleaning and in the making of foam insulation. CFCs (and, as we now know, other chlorine- and bromine-containing compounds) are broken down by the strong ultraviolet (UV) radiation in the earth's upper atmosphere (the stratosphere). This releases the chlorine atoms, which react with ozone to form a new compound that further reacts with oxygen, freeing the chlorine to begin the reaction cycle over again. Since the natural process for ozone formation is much slower, this causes a net removal of ozone from the stratosphere—it is estimated that one chlorine atom can destroy up to 100,000 ozone molecules before it is removed from the stratosphere.

The thinning of the earth's upper atmosphere ozone allows more harmful UV radiation to reach the earth's surface. UV damages DNA, and can therefore cause skin cancer and eye damage in humans and some other animals, as well as as being deleterious to crops and plankton. The most important CFCs were CFC-11 and CFC-12, compounds which are not very chemically reactive and which can therefore remain in the stratosphere and cause harm to the ozone layer for decades. CFC-113, -114 and -115, along with halon-1211 and -1301 were also considered significant in terms of their longevity and ozone destructive capacities.

In 1976 the US National Academy of Sciences released a report affirming the scientific credibility of the ozone depletion hypothesis put forward by Molina and Rowland. The issue of ozone depletion was taken up as a global concern and a meeting of experts on the ozone layer was convened by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1977. This was followed up by the establishment of a Coordinating Committee of the Ozone Layer by the UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The Molina–Rowland research had a significant impact on public opinion initially and especially in the United States, Canada and Nordic countries, with various activist groups mounting successful campaigns to ban the use of CFCs in aerosol cans. This resulted in a reduction in the production of two major CFCs generally throughout the globe. However, by the early 1980s CFC production was on the increase again due to non-aerosol uses.

The Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer

Against a background of increasing scientific evidence validating the Molina–Rowland research, intergovernmental negotiations to construct an international agreement with the aim of phasing out ozone-depleting substances began in 1981 and concluded with the adoption of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer (VCPOL) in 1985, which entered into force in 1988.

VCPOL is a framework convention and as such is designed to establish the basic foundations and structures for mandated intergovernmental collaborative research, standard setting and information exchange on the ozone layer, in addition to systematic monitoring of the ozone layer and CFC production—'to better understand and assess the effects of human activities on the ozone layer' (Article 2(2)(b)) and to find viable substitutes to the use of CFCs.

As a framework convention, VCPOL does not contain and impose legally binding reduction targets for the use of CFCs—these are laid out in the accompanying Montreal Protocol, which has been described as an agreement in 'constant evolution'. Parties to the VCPOL must report to the Secretariat on initiatives that they have undertaken to implement the Convention and the Conference of the Parties established pursuant to Article 6, has as its function, the review of the implementation of the convention.

In 1985 an area of ozone-reduced air in the stratosphere (a so-called 'ozone hole') was detected above Antarctica. The WMO (1986) and UNEP (1987) reports found that atmospheric concentrations of CFC-11 and CFC-12 had nearly doubled between 1975 and 1985. If these emissions had continued at 1980 levels, then they would have had the potential to reduce the ozone layer by almost 10 per cent by 2050. Moreover, also significant was the fact that CFCs are much more powerful than CO2 in terms of their ability to cause global warming (this is true also of HCFCs and HFCs, which were the most commonly adopted replacements for CFCs). The discovery of the ozone hole and these two reports served to capture the public's attention and sharpen the focus of policy makers on the issue of ozone depletion.

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (the Montreal Protocol) is a protocol to the VCPOL and was adopted in 1987 and came into force on 1 January 1989.

The Montreal Protocol introduced regulatory measures to control ozone depleting substances through restrictions in production, consumption and trade of those substances. The Montreal Protocol also established targets and limits on the emissions of CFC-11, CFC-12 and halons, though it has been drafted to allow for the adjustment/acceleration of phase out schedules based on the advice received from contemporary scientific and technological assessments. Taking a forward looking approach, the drafting allowed for the inclusion of new controlled substances to the list (such as methyl chloroform and carbon tetrachloride), and provided scope for incorporating corresponding appropriate and adapted control measures.

Monitoring and compliance

The Secretariat is responsible for dealing with the administrative functions of the convention. State Parties must provide the Secretariat with annual reports containing data relating to their production, import and export activity of controlled substances. The reporting system initially suffered some teething problems, but has improved over time. The Conference of the Parties (COP) which meets annually is responsible for the ongoing monitoring of the convention. These meetings provide an opportunity to review progress, incorporate the latest relevant scientific data, and to discuss measures to enhance compliance. The Copenhagen amendments provided for a non-compliance procedure which could be used by a State Party to raise concerns to the Secretariat about the integrity of another State Party's implementation measures. The non-compliance procedures provided for an 'Indicative List of Measures that Might be Taken by a Meeting of the Parties in Respect of Non-Compliance with the Protocol'.

The Multilateral Fund

The Multilateral Fund was established to finance the 'incremental costs' necessitated for compliance with the protocol. Informed by the principle of 'common but differentiated responsibility', the main purpose of the fund is to provide assistance for developing country parties to the protocol to comply with the control measures of the protocol. Incremental costs associated with compliance include the search for and development of substitutes; the costs of adapting manufacturing facilities; and the costs of premature retirement or replacement of user equipment.

Snapshot of the key amendments and adjustments to the Montreal Protocol

1990 London Adjustments and Amendments—these amendments strengthened the potential mitigating operative impacts of the Montreal Protocol by adding twelve chemicals to the list of ozone depleting substances which were the subject of regulation and control. Furthermore, from 1997 onwards emissions levels were prohibited from exceeding 15 per cent of the base year levels of 1986, and a complete phasing out by the year 2000 was made compulsory.

1992 Copenhagen Adjustments and Amendments—HCFCs, which were viewed as transition substances during the London negotiations were made the subject of direct regulation, carbon tetrachloride and methyl chloroform were targeted for elimination by 1996. Also, a new list of substances was included for regulation—HBFCs and methyl bromide.

1997 Montreal Adjustments and Amendments—these were aimed at bolstering regulatory measures via robust controls in the trade of ozone depleting substances and the use of licensing procedures to control the import and export of new, recycled and reclaimed ozone depleting substances. With some exceptions for developing countries, State Parties are required to provide the Secretariat with reports about the operation of this licensing system.

1999 Beijing Adjustments and Amendments—introduced more rigorous controls on the production and trade of HCFCs. A ban was placed on the trade of HCFCs with states that have yet to ratify the 1992 Copenhagen Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. Bromochloromethane was added to the list of controlled substances.

The Montreal Protocol is considered to be a very successful international environmental agreement and most states have ratified the Montreal Protocol. However, ratification of the Amendments containing stronger regulatory measures lag behind.

Montreal Protocol Control Measures

Further information on ozone depleting substances (ODS) can be found in the United Nations Environment Programme Ozone Secretariat's Handbook for the International Treaties for the Protection of the Ozone Layer (See Section 1.2 for links to graphs displaying ODS phase-outs timetables).

Australia and the Montreal Protocol

Australia has ratified the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer 1985, the Montreal Protocol, and all amendments to the Montreal Protocol which includes London (1990), Copenhagen (1992), Vienna (1995), Montreal (1997) and Beijing (1999).

Australia gives effect to its obligations under the VCPOL and the Montreal Protocol through the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989 (Cth).


15 July 2010

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