Talk Deals or Take Action?

Posted on 02 December 2011 by admin

Busani Bafana speaks to the former head of the former Head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) OzonAction programme, RAJENDRA SHENDE.

Hailed as one of the most successful international environment agreements and a model for global cooperation, the Montreal Protocol has been signed by 196 nations – a feat not achieved by any other green treaty to date. The Montreal Protocol has galvanised governments all over the world to act on Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) which have been blamed for the thinning of the ozone layer – a layer of gas 25km above the atmosphere protecting the earth from the harmful ultra violet rays from the sun. To date 95 percent of ODS have been phased out. In 2012 the Montreal Protocol turns 60 when the first commitment phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires.

As the Kyoto Protocol awaits its fate at the Durban COP17, negotiators can take a leaf from the Montreal Protocol on taking action, says the former Head of the UNEP OzonAction programme, Rajendra Shende.

Excerpts from the interview follow:

Q: Can the Montreal Protocol contribute anything to the current negotiations for a climate change agreement?
A: The Montreal Protocol is older compared to the climate change treaty but today the Montreal Protocol is considered a sort of young brother and the Kyoto Protocol a big brother. The reason being that the climate change issue is much larger and encompasses the reduction of carbon dioxide along with other gases. At the same time, climate change is attracting more attention mainly because, in my view, nothing much is happening whereas we need to take urgent action to reach an agreement and action is what the Montreal Protocol can share with negotiators in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations.

Q: What kind of action?
A: We need to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, mainly carbon dioxide. Such actions are not difficult but take time and yet we are wasting time. For the last 20 years we have not done much; instead of reducing, these gases are increasing.

Q: What then have we learnt from the inaction?
A: One of the things that Kyoto Protocol can teach is to start small. When the Montreal Protocol was agreed, it was decided that it would reduce the production and consumption of Ozone Depleting Substances by only 50 percent – they did not think of 100 percent because people were not confident enough and were doing it for the first time. But then people started getting confident and it became bigger and tighter and a 100 percent phase out was achieved. Today in the climate change talks we are not even starting small. We are just debating and negotiating. The Montreal Protocol teaches us to get on the job because we know it will benefit mankind – which is what the Montreal Protocol did.

A second lesson from the Montreal Protocol is that there has to be global participation. Everyone has to take part and you cannot say I am not part of it. For example, the United States is not part of the treaty but if a country like the US is not part of the treaty, while not blaming the US, action is not possible because consensus is not possible.

Q: Should the current talks on Kyoto Protocol and the whole process be stopped then?
A: There are various ways of doing it. Negotiation is one thing and action is another. We either break with the Kyoto Protocol or have a new one or we continue beyond 2012. Coming from the private sector which implemented a successful model like the Montreal Protocol, what is needed today is tough action. We need a sort of action summit as a way forward.

Q: Are you then saying the Montreal Protocol produced a template from which the Kyoto Protocol can work on?
A: Yes it did. When we stated we wanted the Montreal Protocol to be the single focused multilateral environment treaty to protect the ozone layer. As we went along we got new technologies and found there are a multitude of benefits. It is not only the issue of protecting the ozone layer but the Montreal Protocol has helped save money. Remember CFCs are also greenhouse gases which are infact 5,000 to 10,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide. But getting rid of CFCs fully as we did on 1 January 2010 helped in mitigating against climate change.

Q: Are you hopeful about a deal in Durban?
A:I am hopeful about people taking action on climate change, I may not be so hopeful about governments striking a deal. Maybe governments will strike a deal when they face disaster. I feel countries in Africa can start taking action. Whether you meet in Bonn, Cancun or Durban, people will not care about the future, they will start to take action because that matters.

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