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Meeting reviews links between ozone and climate change strategies

As the 10-year anniversary of major international environmental agreements approaches, scientists and policymakers are focusing on more fully exploring the connections between ozone depletion and climate change. Attempts to deal with both issues have major potential impacts at international and national levels.

MIT climate change experts and other scholars and practitioners of global environmental accords met at MIT last week with representatives of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The goal was to brainstorm about how to implement successful multilateral environmental agreements such as those governing ozone layer depletion and climate change.

The workshop, organized jointly by UNEP and the United Nations University, was hosted by the MIT Center for Environmental Initiatives (CEI) and the MIT Global Accords Program.

The aim of the discussions was to provide input to the UN process leading up to the 10-year review of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The agreements reached at this 1992 conference are known as the Rio accords. The Rio+10 Summit on the environment and development, slated for 2002, will call for new and creative methods for supporting coordinated international actions through the UNCED agreements.

As an example of one of the barriers to effective implementation, the MIT workshop focused on tensions between the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer of 1985 and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change of 1992 and its Kyoto Protocol of 1997. One of these tensions regards recommended substitutes for ozone-depleting substances that are included in the "basket" of greenhouse gases targeted for reductions under a separate global agreement. A substance considered part of the solution to halt depletion of the ozone layer, on one hand, may contribute to the problem of global climate change on the other.

Participants also discussed the limitations of the Montreal Protocol experience as a model for dealing with climate change issues, while at the same time learning from it. The 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is widely considered one of the most successful cases of international cooperation on the environment.

Ambassador Richard Benedick, former chief negotiator for the United States in the negotiations on stratospheric ozone depletion, cautioned that while there were lessons to be learned from the Montreal Protocol experience, the greater complexity of the climate change issue suggested the need for a more complex approach.

Issues highlighted at the meeting included the important role of technological development -- and, hence, of industry -- in effective implementation of conventions; the importance of capacity building in developing countries, especially with respect to large-scale multilateral negotiations; and the obligation to implement conventions with scarce resources.

In addition to Ambassador Benedick, other experts included Ambassador Rasmus Rasmusson of Sweden, a visiting scholar at Harvard University; K. Sarma, former executive secretary of the Ozone Secretariat; She Shuo Lang of the Multilateral Fund Secretariat; Professor Edith Brown Weiss of Georgetown University; and Dr. Raman Lechumanan of the ASEAN Secretariat.

MIT experts participating in the discussions included Dr. Joanne Kauffman (CEI), Professor Nazli Choucri, director of the Global Accords Program; Professor Henry Jacoby, co-director of the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change; Dr. John Reilly, also of the Joint Program; Institute Professor Mario Molina; Professor Ronald Prinn of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences; and Professor of Chemistry Jeffrey Steinfeld, director of the Program on Environmental Education and Research.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 15, 2000.

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