Is the Montreal Protocol a Good Model for Climate Change?

The Montreal Protocol helped reduce ozone depletion issues and is a useful model for addressing climate change. However, there are some strengths and weaknesses to using this approach for climate change. International cooperation is extremely difficult in the easiest scenarios. Mitigating the weaknesses and cooperation challenges that were encountered during the Montreal Protocol process can help develop an effective solution for addressing climate change.

As the first precautionary treaty, the Montreal Protocol had to struggle with uncertainties like climate change solutions struggle with as well (Salzman and Thompson 2019, 143). Similarly, the likelihood of international cooperation seemed very low regarding CFCs prior to the Montreal Protocol. Despite these challenges, the Montreal Protocol was effective and ensured that progress was made even while more information was collected to reduce uncertainty issues (Salzman and Thompson 2019, 152).

Important elements of the Montreal Protocol stand out as strong elements that can be used for climate change approaches. One of the important aspects is that assessments and reviews of the science and uncertainties were scheduled to ensure that the approaches shifted with new knowledge (Salzman and Thompson 2019, 148). Establishing clear and defined timetables not only helped different countries understand the actions they should take, but it also gave companies confidence to invest in the development of new solutions (Salzman and Thompson 2019, 151).

Global scale environmental issues require international cooperation. The Montreal Protocol helped develop cooperation by providing developing countries with financing and technical assistance. It also established the Multilateral Fund which enabled developed countries to provide that financial assistance with predetermined amounts (Salzman and Thompson 2019, 149-150). This helped bring both developing and developed countries to the table in a way that focused on solutions instead of positions while addressing the concerns of both. In addition to the reduction schedules and emissions basketing, tough trade measures were also included that ensured that even countries that were not cooperating under the protocol would have limited free rider behavior options (Salzman and Thompson 2019, 147). While international cooperation is required to get certain elements moving, it is not necessarily required that all countries are cooperative if similar elements of the Montreal Protocol are utilized.

While the Montreal Protocol does provide a strong model for addressing climate change and international cooperation issues, there are still some weaknesses that need to be overcome when applied to climate change. For example, in the Montreal Protocol developing countries were given a ten-year grace period for certain control measures (Salzman and Thompson 2019, 148). With the fast changes occurring in climate change recently, an additional decade of unchecked emissions would not be a useful method for climate change. Also, many solutions that reduced ozone depletion created more climate change issues with potent greenhouse gasses. This weakness in the Montreal Protocol should be proactively addressed as much as possible if using that model when tackling climate change. Overall, the Montreal Protocol is one of the most successful models in history for addressing global environmental issues and international cooperation. If policymakers take the best practices, lessons learned, and actions to avoid from that process and apply them to climate change then better global action can be taken against this large issue.

Author: Logan Callen


Salzman, James, and Barton H. Jr. Thompson. 2019. Environmental Law and Policy. 5th ed. St. Paul, MN: Foundation Press.

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