30th Anniversary of the Montreal Protocol: Implications on International Climate Change Cooperation

Thirty years ago, September 16th, 1987, 197 countries came together to sign The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (Montreal Protocol). This was the first treaty to achieve universal ratification by the United Nations and is the greatest example of international cooperation in environmental action[1].

Composed of naturally occurring ozone gas (O3), the ozone layer lies 9.3 miles above the Earth’s surface in the stratosphere. It acts as a shield protecting the surface from dangerous levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Although it is vital to life on Earth, the ozone layer, composed up of molecules that are easily broken up, is unstable. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a chemical heavily used in the past by industrial nations in air conditioners, fridges, and aerosols, is just one substance that was found to break down ozone, and in 1985, scientists shocked the world by announcing a growing “hole” of thinning ozone above Antarctica[2].

If the ozone hole had been allowed to grow, it would have meant catastrophic consequences for life on Earth including hundreds of millions of additional skin cancer and cataract cases in  the U.S. alone. Global inaction would have also accelerated global climate change. If nothing had been done, scientists estimate that the ozone layer would have collapsed by 2050, signaling a new age of extreme climate conditions that is hard to imagine today. Fortunately for us all, the emphasis is on if. Just two years after the discovery of the ozone hole, the world’s nations came together to sign the Montreal Protocol, an agreement that phased out nearly all ozone-depleting chemicals[3].

The Montreal Protocol was a milestone for everyone on Earth. Thirty years later, we face another major global challenge: man-made climate change. The international community took an important step in fighting climate change by signing the 2015 Paris Agreement. The groundbreaking agreement faces major road blocks since the Trump administration declared its intention to withdraw from the 195 nation accord. It is absolutely vital for all nations to fully commit to the standards and targets set by the Paris Agreement. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have devastated millions of people and should serve as a wake-up call to everyone that climate change makes hurricanes and other existing weather patterns worse.

As we look back on the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol, we see that not only is it possible for the world to come together for the sake of the environment, it’s been done before

What you can do about it:

Although the Paris Agreement is an international agreement, it relies heavily on the actions of states, communities, and individuals. After President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement in June, this became even more true. Below are just some of the actions you can take to join the global fight against climate change.

Learn: The best way to start is to learn about the issue. You can find information on the Paris Agreement, its international implications, and the emission reduction standards that it sets here, as well as the full document for some light reading.

You can also join the Earth Day Network in its A Billion Acts of Green Campaign and learn more about what you can do as an individual to reduce your carbon footprint.

Call: If you’re a U.S. citizen, let your congressman or congresswoman know where you stand on climate change. Calling always beats emailing, so pick up the phone! Go to callmycongress.com to find specific numbers, and remember, you elected them, so they want to hear from you!

Join: Every year, the Earth Day Network launches a campaign to bring together the world in a joint environmental effort on Earth Day. 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and it is more important than ever to bring environmental concerns to the forefront. Check out the EDN website to see what we’re doing around the world and join us!


[1] EPA: International Actions – The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer


[2]National Geographic: Ozone Depletion


[3] National Geographic: Without the Ozone Treaty You’d Get Sunburned in 5 Minutes