By Jim DiPeso, ConservAmerica Vice President-Policy
Today is the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Montreal Protocol, the most successful environmental treaty in world history.
We have President Ronald Reagan to thank for what he rightfully called this “monumental achievement.” The Montreal Protocol phased out chemicals that deplete the upper atmosphere’s ozone layer, which protects humanity and global ecosystems from harmful ultraviolet radiation.
Reagan’s leadership was critical to bringing the treaty negotiations to a successful conclusion. His administration was divided: environmental advisers and diplomats advocated a strong treaty, but others in the administration concerned about a treaty’s possible economic impacts opposed phasing out the chemicals, which at the time were widely used in refrigeration and other important industrial applications.
Reagan carefully considered the facts at hand and sided with his environmental advisers and diplomats. In June 1987, Reagan sent a cable to his negotiators in Montreal personally directing them to push for the strongest possible treaty. The treaty was signed on September 16, 1987, and ratified by the U.S. Senate the following year.
In signing the instrument of ratification on April 5, 1988, Reagan said: “The Montreal Protocol is a model of cooperation. It is a product of the recognition and international consensus that ozone depletion is a global problem, both in terms of its causes and its effects. The protocol is the result of an extraordinary process of scientific study, negotiations among representatives of the business and environmental communities, and international diplomacy. It is a monumental achievement.”
That it was. The Montreal Protocol and follow-up agreements have reduced production of ozone-depleting chemicals 95 percent, safer substitute chemicals are on the market, and the ozone layer has begun to recover.
And, there has been an important spin-off benefit. The Montreal Protocol was not intended to address climate change, which was not as well understood in the 1980s as it is today, but it has delivered significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions, because ozone-depleting chemicals also have potent heat-trapping properties. The National Academy of Sciences has estimated the Montreal Protocol bought us 7 to 12 years of extra time to work on greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
In winning approval of the Montreal Protocol, President Reagan demonstrated prudent but forceful environmental leadership. Reagan was a good steward who acted on the traditional conservative ethic of good stewardship. He set a powerful example that has stood the test of time and is a model that should guide all who lead our nation in the years ahead.