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Former prime minister Brain Mulroney commemorates 30th anniversary of Montreal Protocol

By Brian Mulroney      

In this, party or partisan lines should be minimized as much as humanly possible. We are all on the same side, determined to leave a better world and a more pristine environment to our children and grandchildren. It is the least we can do. In the spirit of the Montreal Protocol, let’s get to work. Right here. Right now.

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney was on hand for the start of celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol on Nov. 20 in Montreal.
The Hill Times file photograph

This is a written copy of the speech delivered by former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney Nov. 20 in Montreal to mark the 30th anniversary of the UN-backed Montreal Protocol: 

When I was very young, we went to the foot of Champlain Street, and swam in Baie Comeau, for which my hometown was named.

Today, there is a park where we used to swim. The waste from the paper mill created landfill, where once there were pristine waters. No one swims in the bay anymore.

And that’s where my awareness of the environment, and the harm done to it, began. In Baie Comeau, I once said: “My father dreamed of a better life for his family. I dream of a better life for my country.” Part of that dream was about leaving a more prosperous and united country to our children, but a large part of it was also about leaving Canada environmentally whole.

So I’m honoured and delighted to join you for this celebration on the 30th anniversary of the landmark Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, the only universal UN agreement, ratified by 196 countries and the EU—more Parties than any other international agreement in history.

The Montreal Protocol was the result of prioritized and proactive leadership by Canada, the United States, some Nordic Countries, and UN leadership of both the developed and developing world.

From the perspective of our government, the environment was a priority from the day we took office. We knew we had to lead by example at home, and engage the international community on environmental issues that knew no borders.

At home, we established eight new national parks, including South Moresby in British Columbia, and our Green Plan put Canada on a path to create five more by 1996 and another 13 by 2000. Dr. Mostafa Tolba, when he was head of the UN Environment Program, called Canada’s Green Plan “a model for the world.”

We began the long overdue cleanup of the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence and Fraser rivers, and we launched the Arctic strategy to protect our largest and most important wilderness area—the North.

In Toronto in 1988, Canada hosted the first international conference with politicians actively present on climate change. Gro Brundtland delivered a powerful keynote address, and Canada was the first western country to endorse the historic recommendations of the Brundtland Commission, and the first to embrace the language of “sustainable development.”

In 1991, we signed the Acid Rain Accord with the United States, an issue we had been working on since taking office in 1984. I want to come back to acid rain as an important example of leadership and engagement.

At the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, we helped bring the U.S. on board in support of the Convention on Climate Change, and we were the first industrialized country to sign the Bio-Diversity Accord Treaty.

And then there was the Montreal Protocol, which a New York Times headline has called: “A Little Treaty That Could”. Could it ever, as it turns out.

It has cut the equivalent of more than 135 billion tonnes of carbon-dioxide emissions, while averting the collapse of the ozone layer and enabling its complete restoration by the middle of this century

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has called the Montreal Protocol “the most successful international agreement to date.”

The Economist last year called it “the world’s most lauded environmental treaty.” The New York Times reported in 2013: “The Montreal Protocol is widely seen as the most successful global environmental treaty.”

In The Guardian, Mario Molina, the Nobel co-laureate in chemistry for his work on ozone depletion wrote that: “The Montreal Protocol has a claim to be one of the most successful treaties of any kind.”

Professor Molina continued: “The same chemicals that attacked the ozone layer also warmed the climate. Thus, in phasing them out, the Montreal Protocol has made a large contribution to protecting the world’s climate.

“The Montreal Protocol is, therefore, a unique planet-saving agreement.”

Not only has the Montreal Protocol led to the elimination of over 99 per cent of ozone depleting substances, it has also, as reported by the European Environment Agency, “avoided greenhouse gas emissions by an amount 5-6 times larger than the target of the Kyoto Protocol.”

That’s a huge valued added benefit of the Montreal Protocol.

Quite apart from eliminating ozone depletion and avoided GHG emissions, the Montreal Protocol, as our Canadian government notes, “has prevented up to two million cases of skin cancer and eye cataracts globally.” The UN Environment Secretariat forecasts: “up to 2 million cases of skin cancer may be prevented each year by 2030.”

That also means uncounted billions of dollars of avoided healthcare costs around the world.

And the question is, how did we get to Montreal, and how did we get the Protocol? And how, and why, has it been such an unqualified success?

It’s a long story that begins with scholarly work on ozone depletion in the 1970s, which led to the March 1985 Vienna Convention, following two long and arduous years of international talks by government officials. To take the talks to the treaty level, another round would be required and the Austrians generously suggested that Canada should be the host nation in recognition of its role in achieving the Vienna Convention and strides made to creating the needed regulatory provisions.

And then in May 1985, British scientists made the stunning announcement that a hole in the ozone layer had appeared over Antarctica.

In other words, there was literally a hole in the sky.

As the New York Times reported four years ago, the news “caught the public imagination in a way few discoveries do.”

People everywhere understood that if the earth was our home, there was a hole in the roof of our house.

While ozone depletion has been stopped, the hole in the sky is still 7.6 million square miles, twice the size of Canada. The good news is, as a Washington Post headline recently reported: “The Earth’s ozone hole is shrinking and is the smallest it has been since 1988.”

Originally, the Montreal Protocol was to reduce CFCs by 50 per cent by 1999. Later it was agreed that all CFC production would cease by 2000.

The Montreal Protocol set a new standard for an international treaty.

As our lead negotiator Victor Buxton later wrote in a succinct review of the Montreal Protocol’s distinctive features: “It put in place an international process for controlling all ozone layer depleting substances. It did this by:

  • providing both a short and long-term plan for addressing all of the ozone depleting substances.
  • providing a mandated phasedown which stimulated product development for environmentally acceptable substitutes or alternatives (the phasedown also affected market behaviour through placing constraints on supply and demand);
  • it signalled to all producers of these controlled substances that society’s tolerance of these chemicals would be short-lived and future investment decisions should be made accordingly;
  • it put in place a dynamic science and technology driven process whereby the stringency and scope of the controls can be adjusted in response to the current understanding of the science, the environmental effects, the technological capabilities and the economic considerations;
  • it provided, within its own framework, an incentive for developing countries to join the Protocol without fear of additional economic hardship for having done so;
  • it provided for trade sanctions as a way of denying those who chose to remain non-parties access to the world’s most lucrative markets.”

The inclusive framework meant that rather than limiting the Montreal Protocol to the 30-odd countries that made ODS’s, everyone in the world came on board, 191 nations at the time, 197 today.

In 1991, it also established the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol, which has provided more than $3.5 billion USD to help developing countries phase out ozone depleting substances. The secretariat was located in Montreal, which has become an important hub for the execution of global and continental environmental agreements. The secretariats for the Multilateral Fund, the NAFTA Commission for Environmental Cooperation, and the Biodiversity Treaty under Rio, are all located in Montreal. This is due in no small measure to the vision of my late friend Arthur Campeau, Canada’s first environmental ambassador.

And industry, which had been a big part of the problem, became an important part of the solution.

I like to cite the example of DuPont, then the world’s largest manufacturer of CFCs. DuPont responded to the challenge by transitioning out of CFCs and creating innovative technologies that not only made the company a good corporate citizen, but also increased its profits. It became green in more ways than one.

During the Montreal Protocol conference, Canada was led by our Environment Minister, Tom McMillan and later by Bob de Cotret. But I must also acknowledge the leadership of our senior officials— Vic Buxton; Alex Chisholm, our chief scientist; Jon Allen, who led our legal team; Elizabeth May, our policy adviser, and Bob Slater, our assistant deputy minister of the environment.

As Professor Molina has observed: “The treaty aimed at starting, then strengthening, action. And success has continued to breed more success. Over three decades it has reduced nearly 100 ozone-depleting chemicals by nearly 100 per cent. The ozone layer is healing, and is likely to recover in several decades.”

The 30th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol provides countries around the globe with an historic opportunity to ratify the 2016 Kigali Amendment that would reduce GHG emissions from hydrofluorocarbons by 80 per cent over the next 30 years.

Reducing HFCs will also avoid up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming by the end of the century, which will be a major contribution to achieving the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. While HFCs currently account for 1 to 2 per cent of GHG emissions, if left unchecked they could account for as much as 10 per cent by 2050.

The Kigali Amendment was approved last October by all 197 parties to the Montreal Protocol. If 20 signatories of the Montreal Protocol ratify the Kigali Amendment, it will enter into force on January 1, 2019.

The Canadian government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister McKenna, advocates ratification, and I strongly endorse this important step forward on climate change.

For Canada, ratification of the amendment and the reduction of HFC emissions will help us meet our targets under the Paris Agreement—reducing GHG emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

In that sense, the road to Paris runs through Montreal.

The will, and the votes, to make that happen are in this room.

Make no mistake, it was the political will to make it happen, in the light of alarming empirical evidence of ozone depletion, that drove the Montreal Protocol to its successful conclusion 30 years ago. It is called leadership.

At the time, there was general agreement on the problem, but no consensus on a solution.

But there were two obvious imperatives—political engagement and the involvement of industry as part of the solution.

Both were key elements in the successful negotiations that resulted in the Montreal Protocol.

Leadership at the national level, and coordinated leadership at the international level, particularly in the global forum of the UN.

Even the science was contested in some political precincts. Does that sound familiar, in terms of today’s conversation on climate change? There were deniers then as well, even when confronted with a hole in the sky.

But my friend President Ronald Reagan, as conservative as he was, was equally a conservationist, who loved the great American outdoors. He lived for weekends at Camp David and vacations at his ranch in California. He was also a survivor of skin cancer. He got it. And he was a good listener.

I should also say about my friend President Reagan that he overcame his initial skepticism about acid rain to work with us in developing an approach to dealing with it.

On March 11, 1981, when Ronald Reagan visited Ottawa for the first time as president, he was greeted by tens of thousands of protesters on Parliament Hill. They shouted and waved placards that conveyed a single powerful message: “Stop Acid Rain!”

Canadians were literally shouting at the rain.

Ten years later almost to the day, on March 13, 1991, the first President Bush and I signed the Acid Rain Accord in the Centre Block on Parliament Hill. There wasn’t a protester in sight.

I regarded it as a litmus test of Canada-U.S. relations and said so to both Presidents Reagan and Bush. In fact, on a visit to Ottawa in 1987, then-Vice President Bush famously said he “got an earful on acid rain” over lunch at 24 Sussex. He certainly did.

At the Shamrock Summit in Quebec City in March 1985, we agreed to the naming of special envoys on acid rain, former Ontario premier Bill Davis for Canada and former transportation secretary Drew Lewis for the United States.

They completed their important work in January 1986. On the U.S. side, President Reagan accepted their recommendation for $5 billion for developing clean energy, including $2.5 billion for demonstration and innovative technology over five years. And in his address to Parliament in April 1987, he concluded with a sentence he added to his speech following a working lunch at 24 Sussex. “The Prime Minister and I agreed,” he declared, “to consider the Prime Minister’s proposal for a bilateral accord on acid rain, building on the tradition to control pollution of our shared international waters.”

But even as we were talking to the Americans, we were taking action with the provinces and industry, implementing a “Clean Hands Policy” of leading from the front.

Even before the Shamrock Summit, in February 1985, within only six months of taking office, we had already persuaded the seven provinces east of Saskatchewan to agree to reduce their sulfur dioxide emissions to 50 per cent below 1980 levels by 1994, by 2.3 million tonnes.

We also made sure that industry, which was a big part of the problem, became part of the solution. For example, the INCO smelter at Sudbury was the largest producer of SO2 emissions in Canada. When we told INCO they had to cut their emissions in half, they said they would go out of business. But we held the line, and you know what? They commercialized the sulfur, became the lowest cost producer of nickel and their profits went up instead.

The Clean Hands narrative also gave us moral leverage when I had the high honour of addressing a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress in April 1988.

As I told them: “We have concluded agreements with our provinces to reduce acid rain emissions in eastern Canada to half their 1980 levels by 1994. But that is only half the solution—because the other half of our acid rain comes from across the border, directly from the United States, falling upon our forests, killing our lakes, soiling our cities.

“We acknowledge our responsibility for some of the acid rain that falls on the United States. Our exports of acid rain to the U.S. will have been cut in excess of 50 per cent. We are asking nothing more than this from you.”

And I left Congress with this question: “What would be said of a generation of North Americans who found a way to explore the stars, but allowed their lakes and forests to languish and die?”

Not only was the dispute over acid rain resolved, the problem was solved.

A quarter century later, we have answered the question—we have not allowed our lakes, rivers, streams and forests to languish and die. Acid rain is no longer an issue in protecting our environment and our quality of life.

We answered the call.

Always remember: history will judge us not on the speeches we make but on the results we deliver.

The present government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister and Minister McKenna, has also answered the call, beginning with the Paris Agreement in December 2015. The government is also phasing in a carbon price over five years beginning in 2018–except for Quebec and Ontario which have created cap and trade markets, while also approving the proposed twinning of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline.

As the Prime Minister said earlier this year: “Environmental protection and resource development go hand in hand.”

The environment and energy are not competitive, they are complementary public policy issues. As I said to the U.S. Congress nearly 30 years ago: “They are not mutually exclusive, but mutually reinforcing.”

Canada has the world’s third largest proven reserves of oil and we are not going to leave 170 billion barrels of oil in the ground. But we need to extract the resource and transport it to tidewater in an environmentally sustainable manner, and the energy industry in Alberta has already made significant strides in this regard and Canadians have the ingenuity to do the rest.

Allow me to conclude on a personal note on climate change and global warming.

The science is incontrovertible, and the evidence is before our eyes every day—in the wildfires that have raged in the forests of Alberta, British Columbia and California, and in the hurricanes incubated in the warming waters of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico that have devastated Texas, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The United Nations weather agency says that 2017 is set to become the world’s third warmest year on record, behind only 2015 and 2016, when record temperatures were driven by El Nino. In other words, the last three years will go down as the warmest in world history.

So while there is much to celebrate on this auspicious anniversary, there is much to be vigilant about. Minister McKenna has taken up the good fight as a champion of the environment on behalf of us all.

In this, party or partisan lines should be minimized as much as humanly possible. We are all on the same side, determined to leave a better world and a more pristine environment to our children and grandchildren. It is the least we can do. In the spirit of the Montreal Protocol, let’s get to work. Right here. Right now.

Brian Mulroney served as the prime minister of Canada from 1984 to 1993.

The Hill Times

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