Delegates in Japan should learn that our crisis isn’t its own problem – it’s one that we’re living through, the same as the 20th century ozone hole. It’s one in which governments play a vital role, whether in agreeing rules or implementing them.
In recent weeks, ministers and lead officials have sat in Japan for the first-ever meeting of the assembly of the ozone layer management programme, the global treaty that ensures a healthy and stable atmosphere. They’re looking at a crisis that will play out for a century yet is still not resolved.
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The 1981 Montreal protocol – which I worked on with Sir John Major and the UK’s environment secretary – decided to take the issue seriously. It was the first binding international agreement for the atmosphere, and the first to provide financial assistance to member states. Since then, the ozone layer has not only grown in coverage, but also in extent – allowing it to grow at its fastest rate for 80 years.
There’s no doubt that the Montreal protocol has saved countless lives and economies across the globe, but it hasn’t solved the problem. To prevent a repeat of the damage caused by the current ozone hole, we will need to put in place a robust health regime to tackle substances that break down ozone, and to help developing countries to reduce their emissions.
The meeting in Japan is key to getting the system that should be in place in time for the UN meeting in Katowice in December.
Countries should work together on an action plan for 2019 that sets clear targets for 2020 and 2050. It must ensure equal protection for developed and developing countries, and a strong incentive system for countries to reduce their emissions.
People and businesses that sign up to the action plan will also have a legally binding obligation to reduce their own emissions, while also working on cutting their own emissions – and support workers and small businesses to expand, and small and large businesses to remain profitable.
Our responsibilities don’t end there. Decisions will be taken not just on the UN negotiations in Katowice, but also on specific targets set for 2020 and beyond – and though these may need to be politically sensitive, they don’t have to be difficult or painful.
By strengthening the protocol, we can eventually achieve our goal of reducing total man-made emissions to zero, aiming to achieve a bright and stable future. This will require finding the right balance – maintaining the existing incentives for countries to reduce emissions while trying to involve more developing countries, and encouraging others to start making a difference. This is the process that will help us not only regain a healthy atmosphere, but one that we can grow into and protect our own future.
• Sally Johnson-Smith is research professor at the IPPR North Centre for Climate Change Impact Research