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Statement at the High-Level Segment 20th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer

Daniel A. Reifsnyder, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environment and Sustainable Development
Doha, Qatar
November 19, 2008

Thank you, Mr. President:

When nations of the world negotiated the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in 1985 – and even when they negotiated the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in 1987 – nearly everyone thought that these agreements were about preserving the stratospheric ozone layer that protects the Earth from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation – effects such as cataracts, skin cancer and suppression of the immune system, which can render vaccines less effective.

And they are. Where once chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were widely used for multiple purposes – from hairspray to refrigeration – these agreements have already helped us eliminate 95% of all such chemicals, and we are well on our way to eliminating 98% in the next few years. Without these agreements, ozone depletion would have risen to at least 50% in the Northern Hemisphere’s mid-latitudes and about 70% in the Southern Hemisphere’s mid-latitudes. We could thus be facing a situation ten times worse than we face today from the standpoint of ozone depletion and its resulting ravages on human health. By 2050, there could have been 19 million more cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer, 1.5 million more cases of melanoma skin cancer, and 130 million more cases of cataracts - already the leading cause of blindness worldwide.

These stupendous achievements have come about not through an immediate, draconian mandate to eliminate the use of all ozone-depleting substances at a fixed time. Instead, they have come about through a combination of efforts between governments and the private sector to reduce and eliminate specific uses of ozone-depleting chemicals in various time frames as alternatives have been developed and adopted in the marketplace. These achievements have also come through a remarkable partnership among developed countries, economies in transition and developing countries built on identical commitments applied in different time frames and supported by financial and technical assistance. The cost thus far to the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund is estimated at $2.19 billion, and to the Global Environment Facility at $180 million.

But we have recently come to appreciate that these agreements – the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol – are about far more than protecting the Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer. They are also, perhaps even equally, about protecting the Earth’s climate system. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March 2007 reported that in 2010, the Montreal Protocol will have reduced net GWP-weighted emissions from ODS by 5 times the reduction target of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. In simple terms, the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol have already bought us considerable time in our continuing efforts to address the environmental risks of climate change.

Last year, Parties to the Montreal Protocol took yet another major step along this path when they agreed to accelerate the developed and developing country phase-outs of hydrofluorochlorocarbons (HCFCs). It is unfortunate that this agreement has been so little heralded in the press and so little appreciated by the public at large, because it represents, in the words of Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, “…perhaps the most important breakthrough in an international environmental negotiation process for at least five or six years.” As a result of this agreement, we will avoid putting nearly 524,000 ODP tons into the atmosphere – but we will also avoid putting 9.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions into the atmosphere – an amount comparable, depending on the choice of substitutes, to the climate benefit of the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. In other words, our agreement was good for the ozone layer and simultaneously good for the climate system.

But enthusiasm for the Montreal Protocol should not stop here – for what lies before us are at least two new vistas for action that may produce significant new environmental benefits. By this, I mean the opportunity presented by destroying ozone-depleting substances in banks that will otherwise leak into the atmosphere, most of them by 2015, and the opportunity to find ways of promoting the transition from HCFCs to substances that have low to no global warming potential.

I am encouraged that Parties see these potentials and may yet adopt decisions at this meeting that may go some distance toward beginning to realize them.

Mr. President, two final points. The achievements I have described could not have come about without good science. We owe a significant debt of gratitude to the investments of scientists and scientific institutions worldwide for the contributions they have made and the vital insights they have brought to policy makers, enabling them to take action. In the case of my own country, I would be remiss not to highlight the efforts of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Altogether, the U.S. contribution to scientific monitoring, modeling and analysis activities since 1980 – excluding the significant additional investments in satellite hardware – exceeds $200 million.

Finally, Mr. President, let me say again how grateful we are to the Government of Qatar for its warm and gracious hospitality in hosting these meetings, and for its innovative and pioneering efforts within the UN system to move us toward paperless meetings. I have no doubt that Doha will long be remembered as the place where we all learned to dispense with paper and contribute further to protecting the forests of the world.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Released on November 19, 2008

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