09/16/2011 11:23 am ET | Updated Nov 16, 2011

Happy Ozone Day: Looking to the Past for a Stable Climate Future

"A treaty was signed that was unique in the annals of international diplomacy. Knowledgeable observers had long believed that this particular agreement would be impossible to achieve because the issues were so complex and arcane and the initial positions of the negotiating parties so widely divergent. Those present at the signing shared a sense that this was not just the conclusion of another important negotiation, but rather a historic occasion. By their actions, the signatory countries sounded the death knell for an important part of, with implications for billions of dollars in investment and hundreds of thousands of jobs in related sectors. The protocol did not simply prescribe limits... based on 'best available technology,' which had been a traditional way of reconciling environmental goals with economic interests. Rather, the negotiators established target dates for replacing products that had become synonymous with modern standards of living, even though the requisite technologies did not yet exist." -- Richard Elliot Benedick, US Ambassador

What if things had been different? What if the Kyoto Protocol had included hard target emission limits on developing countries? What if it had capped global emissions? What if the U.S. Senate had been willing to ratify it? What if George W. Bush's administration had not backed away from the treaty? What if the US had taken the lead and pushed countries like China, India, and the EU to set aggressive targets? If these things had happened, the passage above might be written today about the Kyoto Protocol.

Instead, as we stand a little over three months away from the end of the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period, the world finds itself with no internationally binding agreement to combat what is arguably the biggest problem facing today's global inhabitants and future generations.

Looking back on the Montreal Protocol, the treaty for which the passage above was actually written, it seems like a global agreement to limit production and consumption of dangerous chemicals used in refrigerators, air conditioners, and making insulated foam was inevitable. But reading Ambassador Benedick's book, Ozone Diplomacy, a must read for today's generation of environmental leaders, it is clear that it was not.

Big industry, like Dow Chemical, resisted. Other nations, primarily a handful of nations in the EU, tried to scuttle the international negotiations. Factions within the president's inner circle (the president was Ronald Reagan at the time), tried to sabotage the process. And even months before the set of negotiations that finalized the Montreal Protocol, hopes of success looked dim.

Despite these hurdles, the Montreal Protocol was signed and ratified. And now, nearly 25 years later, the treaty is hailed by international environmental leaders like Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, and head of the International Network for Environmental Compliance & Enforcement, as not only the most effective international environmental agreement ever, but also the "best climate treaty to date."

According to Zaelke, the MP has "already delayed climate change by the equivalent of 12 years of CO2 emissions and produced net mitigation equivalent to 135 billion tonnes of CO2 by phasing out nearly 100 other gases that harm the ozone layer and warm the climate by 97%." He added, "In fact, if you included our earlier voluntary efforts, and those at the national level before Montreal was negotiated, we've solved an amount of the climate problem that otherwise would be equal to the contribution from CO2 -- 1.6 watts per square meter. This is astounding, and should give us hope that we can learn how to solve other parts of the climate problem."

The United Nation Environment Programme *UNEP" has declared September 16 to be International Ozone Day. So Happy Ozone Day to you.

And for a generation of younger environmental attorneys, scientists, policy makers, and diplomats, to whom the Montreal Protocol seems like an inevitable treaty -- a logical international agreement to phase out harmful chemicals -- just a quick reminder that it was not.

And for that same generation, who are told that international climate negotiations are dead, know that they are not. As we approach the 20th Anniversary of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), more commonly known as the Rio Earth Summit, the world still needs a solution. And you are it.

So, again, happy Ozone Day, please read Ozone Diplomacy and visit Zaelke's web site, and good luck in creating an international agreement about which someone will write an equally glowing passage in the years to come.