The Montreal Protocol: An Overview

Nora Tahbaz


The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is an environmental agreement that regulates the production and consumption of almost 100 man-made chemicals that have been referred to as ozone depleting substances (ODS). The agreement was signed in 1987 and has been hugely successful in achieving its goal of reducing harmful chemicals from being produced and consumed. This is important because it was the first United Nations (UN) treaty to have been ratified by all 197 UN Member States.

The reason why ODSs need to be monitored is because once these chemicals are in the atmosphere, they destroy the Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer. This ozone layer is the Earth’s protective shield that protects humans and the environment from the harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun. It is important to note that these chemicals are all man-made, and thus are not found naturally in the environment. This means that it is much easier to eliminate them from the production and consumption process across the globe by slowly phasing them out, which is what the Montreal Protocol does. 

How It Works

The Path from Kigali: HFC Phase-Down Timeline

As you can see in this image above, the Montreal Protocol creates a timeline for countries to follow as they phase out these harmful chemicals. This is one reason why it has been so successful, as countries are not forced to get rid of everything all at once. This is especially helpful to developing nations who may not have the infrastructure in place to dispose of these chemicals quickly. Because of the differences in economies and access to resources, nations in varying stages of development can have different timelines based on their specific circumstances. This has been very beneficial and has also shown that when nations are provided with an appropriate timeline and aid, they are willing and ready to comply with measures that protect the environment. In order to further acknowledge that some nations are better equipped to handle this treaty than others, the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol was established in 1991 under Article 10 of the treaty. The Fund serves to provide financial and technical aid to developing countries to help them achieve their Montreal Protocol commitments. With this timeline, the world will be able to completely phase out ODS specified by the treaty and with the help of the Multilateral Fund, developing countries will also be able to participate. 

International Actions Made to the Montreal Protocol

In the diagram above, we can see the various, important international actions that have been made to the Montreal Protocol since its ratification in 1987. These changes are based off of the list of countries that are differentiated by financial/economic levels and between developing and developed nations. Some of these changes include accelerating the phase out of some substances. For example, at the Bangkok Meeting of the Parties in 1993, the decision was made to accelerate the phase out of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) for specific countries. This map also shows amendments to the treaty, such as the most recent one, the Kigali Amendment of 2016 which established the phase out of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

Specifics of the Montreal Protocol

The Preamble of the Montreal Protocol contains an urgent call to action of the UN Member Parties. It is important to note that this preamble is outlined by italicized words that are meant to organize and illustrate the motives behind the protocol. The words are, being, mindful, recognizing, conscious, aware, determined, acknowledging, noting and considering. The Preamble also touches on the importance of protecting human health and the environment “against adverse effects resulting or likely to result from human activities which modify…the ozone layer”. Why is this line so significant? Because it shows that despite politics or country borders, all 197 UN Member Parties from around the world agreed that protecting human life is equal to protecting the environment. They also agreed that humans are the reason for the issues we are facing today. These are huge statements to agree to, and it is significant that as of 1987, the entire world is on the same page. 

Section 1 of the treaty contains the Montreal Protocol and a summary guide to its control measures. It has been updated in the past to include the various amendments made, including the most recent, Kigali Amendment.

Section 2 of the treaty contains the decisions of the Meetings of the Parties and is updated each year after each meeting.

Section 3 includes information from the relevant annexes to the decisions and includes destruction procedures for ODSs, essential use exceptions, and critical-use exceptions for methyl bromide. Also in this section are the non-compliance procedures, the Multilateral Fund, financial issues, and declarations made by the parties. 

Section 4 contains information on the rules of procedure.

And lastly, Section 5 contains information on the evolution of the protocol.

The Global Impact

The Montreal Protocol has achieved something very rare, complete global cooperation. This universal treaty has been ratified by all 197 UN Member Parties and has been monumental in bringing uniform action from all members. 

Before the Montreal Protocol was implemented, the ozone layer was in peril and in need of a path to repair. The only way to do this quickly, efficiently, and completely, was to have every corner of the Earth actively involved.

Full implementation of this treaty is expected to result in the avoidance of more than 280 million cases of skin cancer, about 1.6 million skin cancer deaths, and more than 45 million cases of cataracts in just the United States alone by the end of the 21st century. Additionally,  the benefits worldwide will be astronomical. Thus far, this protocol has been extremely successful in its original purpose of eliminating the use and production of ODS. A fortunate side-effect of this reduction is that scientists predict that by 2030, the ozone layer will be expected to return to the state it was in the 1980s. 

This treaty has shown us that when we follow science and consider humanity and the environment, the world can come together to help save the planet, prevent public health issues in the future, and pave the way for new global environmental protocols to be ratified in the future. 

Sources: Australian Government: Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment, Australian Government: Department of the Environment and Energy, International Institute for Sustainable Development, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), U.S. Department of State, United States Environmental Protection Agency