As the ink of the new Paris agreement is not yet dry, many are wondering whether this partly-binding package, which is not a treaty, stands any chance of reaching its target of capping global warming at a maximum 1.5 degree increase. After all, its predecessor, the Kyoto protocol, whose legal form was much stronger, was not implemented by many of its signatories.
In contrast, the Montreal protocol, the agreement regulating chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which contribute to the depletion of the Ozone Layer, has been a huge success: With 197 nations party to the accord, including the US, the most widely ratified treaty in UN history has enabled reductions of more than 97% of all consumption and production of controlled ozone-depleting substances, with $3.5 billion investment resulted in an estimated $1.8 trillion in global health benefits and avoided damages to agriculture, fisheries and material worth $460 billion. That’s equivalent to around $650 per dollar invested. With returns like this, even the euro million lottery or the Ponzi Pyramid look like low return investment schemes. On top of that, the Montreal Protocol did more for climate change than Kyoto did – 10 gigatonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (Gt CO2E , the unit of avoided CO2 emissions) avoided per year in 2010, which is 5 times the annual reduction target for the Kyoto protocol over 2008-2012.
What explains such a massive success? The agreement got off to a very good start: DuPont the world’s largest CFC producer, with 25 percent of the market share decided in 1988 that it would stop manufacturing CFCs. This had an enormous impact on the rest of the industry. Moreover, the key demands from developing countries: flexibility, the recognition of differentiated responsibilities and finance, were enshrined in the agreement and a multilateral fund for developing countries and economies in transition provided over US$3.3 billion of support. The agreement had vastly underestimated the extent of reductions needed but included provisions for taking stock and adjusting targets, enabling parties to use new science to adjust their controls. Also underestimated was the capacity of industry to adapt: projected costs for industry were much lower than originally expected.
So what does this tell us about the odds of implementing the Paris agreement?
- It would be decisive if a major oil company decided to break ranks: Any volunteers? How can we make this happen?
- The message that climate finance is an intelligent investment rather than charity is not getting through to rich
governments and climate negotiators, so please repeat after me: “Supporting developing countries to implement international environmental agreements is an investment which provides amazing returns”
- Learn and adjust rapidly, and do so based on science not politics
- Don’t ever listen to losers…because losers are losers. They lie until they die. Just look at tobacco companies….
The twist in this tale of two agreements is that Montreal might end up sinking or saving Paris: rising demands for HFCs, which replaced CFCs, could lead to emissions equivalent to 8.8 gigatonnes carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2050 or 20% of annual CO2 emissions. The silver lining is that parties to the Montreal protocol have agreed to come back to the negotiation table in 2016 to explore phasing out HFCs, with enormous co-benefits for climate change, equivalent to eliminating the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 40 percent of all U.S. passenger cars each year, for the next 30 years. If they succeed in doing so, only one conclusion can be reached: it is always a good idea to sign environmental agreements in francophone cities. This is why the next UNFCCC Conference Of Parties, in Morocco, is bound to be a success. As we say in French math classrooms, CQFD (Ce Qu’il Fallait Demontrer)!