In 1985, NASA scientists confirmed that the world was in serious trouble. In May 1985, the British Antarctic Survey showed that the level of atmospheric ozone over Antarctica’s Halley Bay was dropping precipitously. In parallel, NASA scientists analyzing the first ozone images observed an “ozone hole” the size of the United States over Antarctica. This hole resulted in large increases of damaging ultraviolet radiation at the Earth’s surface, with potentially devastating consequences for human health.
Spurred on by the scientific evidence of ozone depletion, nations from around the globe, along with civil society, academics and industry, gathered to negotiate a solution. On September 16, 1987, these nations adopted the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Their actions then are protecting us now from the devastating effects of ultraviolet radiation.
Under the Reagan administration, the United States played a strong leadership role in getting the Montreal Protocol adopted in 1987. Thanks in large part to U.S. encouragement to other countries, the Montreal Protocol became the first global environmental regime with universal ratification, with every country on the planet agreeing to do the hard work to reduce or eliminate reliance on ozone depleting substances (ODS).
The benefits of the Montreal Protocol have been momentous. Countries have successfully phased out over two million tons of ODS since 1987. Scientists have confirmed that the hole in the ozone layer is starting to close. The global savings from the public health benefits of the agreement are estimated to be over one trillion dollars since its inception. In the United States alone, the Protocol has helped avoid approximately 280 million cases of skin cancer, 1.6 million skin cancer deaths, and more than 45 million cases of cataracts.
Just as important, the Montreal Protocol has been a boon to the American economy. It enabled U.S. industry and businesses to lead the development of cutting-edge innovations, including next-generation refrigerants, insulating foams, aerosols, and fire suppressants. It not only protects our health, it also shapes the global markets for refrigerants and related products, where U.S. companies are market leaders, with annual output of over $150 billion, accounting for $32 billion in payroll for over 700,000 U.S. jobs.
Today, 30 years after its adoption, it is fitting to remember President Ronald Reagan’s words in describing the significance of the Montreal Protocol:
“It provides for internationally coordinated control of ozone-depleting substances in order to protect a vital global resource. It creates incentives for new technologies – chemical producers are already working to develop and market safer substitutes – and establishes an ongoing process for review of new scientific data and of technical and economic developments. 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.”
In November, all the countries of the world will gather at the Meeting of the Parties, aptly scheduled to be held in Montreal, to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Montreal Protocol. Together, we will continue to work to protect our health and the health of our planet into the future.
About the Author: Judith Garber serves as the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
Editor’s Note: This entry is also published in the U.S. Department of State’s publication on Medium.com.