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Montreal, Kyoto and Paris: The Next Protocol

The history of environmental protocols is fraught with failure. Most recently, 2012 saw the withdrawal of our government’s commitment to the so-called binding international agreement formed in Kyoto, a protocol that was intended to permanently address the need for international action on climate change. For politicians, signing on to these agreements only to flake out on them later seems to be par for the course.

It comes as a bit of a surprise then, to find out that one of these protocols may have actually done the trick. Supported by data from a United Nations report issued earlier this month, the Washington Post recently published an article called “The Earth’s ozone layer is recovering”. Apparently, the Montreal Protocol of 1987 which sought to phase out chemicals known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s), those present in refrigerators and aerosol cans in the 1980’s , appears to have made a noticeable difference in the Earth’s ozone layer. By 2050, the UN says, mid-latitudes of the ozone layer will have regained the condition once seen in the 1980’s.

Without a doubt, this is great news. The actions of our former prime ministers and policymakers have actually made a discernible difference on the world around us. But while it is important to recognize the success of this protocol, it is doubly important to realize that the problem we faced with regards to CFC’s is a pale, shadow of a concern compared to the issues we are facing now.

Initially, when CFC’s were phased out, industry objected, citing the harm it would have on the economy and jobs. Eventually, when safe substitutes were created, the industry’s resistance to change lessened, and the production of CFC’s was permanently phased out. What separates this issue from today’s climate concerns is that replacing these chemicals was relatively easy. Refrigeration, air conditioning and spray cans, while being everyday necessities, don’t exactly form the bedrock of an economy. Our dependence on fossil fuels permeates every aspect of our economics across the globe, and kicking our habit would mean a global shift in food production and the long supply chains that support it.

This shift was the main topic of discussion on Tuesday, September 21st as more than 125 world leaders gathered for a UN summit on climate change, in hopes of creating realistic plans for change and generating momentum ahead of the Paris conference of 2015. Canada plays a crucial role in all of this, of course, as the tar sands continue to be the major source of carbon pollution in the country, and have gone largely unregulated for years. The hope is that time spent at the upcoming conference will be put to good use, rather than simply serving to allocate blame for past failures.

– Jesse Polowin

Image License: Some rights reserved oriol04

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