Could Kyoto Protocol use a touch of Montreal?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Could the solution to global warming be as simple as a switch of cities?

A Montrealer looks at a pamphlet left behind by an environmental group outside a climate change conference in Montreal, in a 2005 photo. The United States is not part of the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that it would cost U.S. jobs and wrongly excludes developing nations like China and India from goals to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

For those who think the Kyoto Protocol is not working to cut greenhouse gas emissions that are heating the planet, why not take some lessons from the Montreal Protocol, praised as the world’s most successful climate treaty?

Both the United Nations and the Bush administration plan to try out this idea this week as parties to the treaty gather in Montreal, 20 years after the pact to cut ozone-depleting chemicals was signed. Sunday, the anniversary of the signing, has been dubbed International Ozone Day.

The Montreal Protocol aims to cut down on emissions of chemicals that deplete the stratospheric ozone layer, which shields Earth from ultraviolet solar radiation that can cause skin cancer and other ailments.

The ozone layer is still thin in spots, especially over the South Pole, but the treaty is considered a raging success because it mapped a way to cut production of ozone-depleting substances. So far, 191 countries from the developed and developing world have signed this pact, and have phased out more than 95 percent of ozone-depleting substances.

Because some chemicals that eat stratospheric ozone also contribute to global warming, the United Nations Environment Program and the White House plan to urge speeding up some requirements of the Montreal Protocol. They argue that this would have a bigger impact on climate change than the Kyoto Protocol, signed in Japan in 1997.

“We will push for an agreement among the parties to accelerate the phase-out of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), chemicals that not only destroy the ozone layer, but contribute significantly to climate change,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement before the meeting.

James Connaughton, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said Washington wants HCFCs -- used in refrigerators and air conditioners -- phased out 10 years earlier than under the current timetable.


“It would produce at least two times the reductions (in greenhouse gases) than the Kyoto Protocol,” Connaughton said in a Reuters interview in Brussels.

The United States is not part of the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that it would cost U.S. jobs and wrongly excludes developing nations like China and India from goals to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide spewed by coal-fired power plants and petroleum-fueled vehicles.

But using the Montreal Protocol to fight global warming is “simplistic,” said one Washington-based environmental expert who deals with the U.S. government.

Climate change is a more complex problem than ozone depletion, this consultant said, requesting anonymity. And the big problem with climate change remains carbon dioxide emissions, not ozone-depleting chemicals, the consultant said.

All the industries covered by the Montreal Protocol account for perhaps 5 percent of total global warming emissions, the consultant said, while carbon dioxide from energy production and mobile sources accounts for 75 percent.

Annie Petsonk of Environmental Defense noted a fundamental difference between the Montreal and Kyoto treaties: in the ozone pact, all countries are compelled to cut back on the amount of ozone-eating substances they produce, but developing countries have a 10-year grace period and get financial incentives to do it.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, developing countries are exempt from limiting emissions from greenhouse gases, Petsonk said in a telephone interview.

Drusilla Hufford, director of stratospheric protection at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said some part of the Montreal Protocol’s success was its genesis: based on science and flexible in the way its goals could be met.

It also had the support of the U.S. administration, which is not the case with the Kyoto agreement on climate change.

“In Kyoto, the United States isn’t even at the table,” the environmental consultant said. “We’re the technology leader, the biggest emitter, we set an example for other countries ... and we’re not setting an example.”