The Secret Sauce that Saved the Ozone Layer — Part 2

February 12, 2021
Est. Reading: 4 minutes

Part 2: Adapting the Recipe for Climate Change

Based on the forthcoming book, Cut Super Climate Pollutants, Now!, by Alan Miller, Durwood Zaelke, and Stephen O. Andersen. Part 1 of this blog is accessible here.

In a previous blog I described the seemingly mundane process that brought about the remarkably rapid phase-out of ozone depleting substances, many also potent greenhouse gases. Credit for this is owed to one of the most successful international agreements ever achieved — the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The foundation for this success was the creation of panels of technical experts to identify solutions for specific applications of ozone depleting compounds , a process hardly unusual. But the “secret sauce” that made it so effective was the political support and creative leadership that allowed for selection of experts, including many from the affected industries, with a commitment to finding solutions, often innovative, that frequently required major changes in technologies and ways of doing business.

Given the proven success of the Montreal Protocol, there must be many other programs with similar systems, right? Actually no, hardly any. While scholars promote these lessons in academic writings, the secret sauce remains largely on the shelf. Industry groups often organize around common problems, more often to fend off oversight and regulation than to promote it, even when governments are involved. Two good examples are the international organizations that oversee shipping and aviation, both very slow to promote reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. But there are established programs that could be reorganized to look more like the Montreal Protocol panels.

Among the initiatives with the potential to adapt the recipe for climate change is the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM), established in 2010. The CEM already meets several of the five elements in the Montreal Protocol recipe described in my previous blog. For starters, the CEM includes representatives from countries responsible for 75 percent of GHG emissions, the basis for effective solutions. In addition,

· Multiple expert groups work to improve energy efficiency and accelerate access to clean energy supply framed around sector specific solutions, e.g., electric vehicles, solar and wind technologies, and super-efficient appliances.

· Private companies and developing nations have leading roles and working groups exist for policy reforms. These include appliance standards and public procurement of clean energy technologies, as well as energy efficiency competitions and technical assistance for developing nations.

· CEM experts work within a culture of independence, openness to innovation, and the need to identify meaningful solutions.

The CEM fails to match the Montreal Protocol recipe insofar as the goals are not fully aligned with achieving the Paris goals and there is not a commitment to adopting the solutions identified. The parties should strengthen the CEM by emphasizing the need for urgent action and giving greater emphasis to ensuring the solutions proposed are adopted.

AS the CEM illustrates, the Protocol recipe will need to be adapted for climate change although perhaps with fewer changes than might be imagined. While the energy economy encompasses many more activities than the applications of ozone depleting compounds, a subset of energy intensive industries account for a disproportionate share of total emissions. The International Energy Agency annually analyzes trends by sector, evaluates opportunities for improvements in design and technology, and calculates how much reduction each must achieve to meet the Paris climate goals. Some opportunities, like the energy used for steel, cement, aluminum, buildings, and transportation are obvious, while other sources of the increase in emissions — e.g., power for air conditioning and fuel for aviation — less so.

The Protocol also reminds us that too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the dish. In 1987, a relatively small number of developed nations was sufficient to achieve an effective agreement. Developing nations were enticed to join later with a more gradual phasedown schedule and modest financial assistance. The UN climate negotiations, with 197 signatories, often have difficulty agreeing when to break for lunch, much less measures to control greenhouse gas emissions. However, as just ten countries led by China and the United States are responsible for over two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions, solutions can be effectively devised and implemented by a relatively small group of nations. But the mix of responsible parties has changed dramatically from 1987 and the recipe needs to be changed accordingly. Whereas in the late 1980s ozone depleting compounds were primarily emitted by like-minded developed nations (think G7), the responsible parties today are much more diverse (think G20). In addition to the United States. and Western Europe, the climate kitchen needs representatives from China, India, Russia and Brazil.

Vice-President Kamala Harris is among leaders to call for a “low carbon club” or “minilateral” building on the concept of a coalition of the willing — nations with a commitment to address climate change banding together to promote their shared interest. China and India, the countries projected to generate a large share of the projected global increase in carbon emissions, both have climate targets and policies consistent with a climate minilateral.

The recipe for saving the planet is based on proven, readily available ingredients. It’s high time to get in the kitchen and start cooking — before it’s too late.

Alan S. Miller is a consultant on climate finance and policy who has worked on global environmental issues for more than 40 years, including 16 years in the World Bank Group. This blog is the third in a series on practical solutions to climate change. The first, “The Case for a Climate Change Operation Warp Speed,” and the second, “The Climate Marathon Has Begun, Now Time for the Sprint,” are also available on Medium.

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