Notes for an Address
by the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney

on the Occasion of the
20th Anniversary of the Montreal Protocol

Le Palais des Congrès

September 16, 2007

(Check against delivery)

We observe today an anniversary that reminds us not only of the importance of preserving our planet, but equally of the importance of involving us all in preserving it.

Not just the United Nations, not just its member states, not just governments at all levels, but all elements of civil society everywhere, and all of us who live on this Earth. We are all environmentalists, without exception and without exclusion.

Twenty years ago today, the nations of the world came together in this city to sign the Montreal Protocol. It’s widely known as the accord on Ozone Depletion. It’s actually the accord to stop Ozone Depletion.

And twenty years later, the good news is that it’s working. It’s working for the planet. It’s working for the 191 UN nations that have signed it. It’s working for national governments such as Canada, representing provinces and states such as Quebec, and cities such as Montreal. It’s working for all of us, assuring that we’ll leave a world that is whole to our children and grandchildren. 

And believe me, I have a vested interest in this positive outcome.

Yes, I was head of the national government that hosted the Montreal conference in 1987, and I was gratified by the signing of the Montreal Protocol, as well as proud of the leadership of our Environment Minister, Tom McMillan, and grateful to our public servants for their tireless efforts.

In retrospect, it was the first concerted action on climate change. At the end of one century, it foretold the great global issue of the next.

But Mila and I are not only parents of four children, but also grandparents of four more. Like all of you, we are aware that the greatest legacy we can leave our children and grandchildren is the earth itself, not only as the place we live, but also as a livable place.

And what would I say if any of our children twenty years ago, or our grandchildren today, were to ask me, what is the ozone layer, and why is it so important?

I couldn’t answer those questions in terms of science or the stars, though there’s no shortage of experts at this important twentieth anniversary conference. I’ll leave that to you.

But I think I would have told my children or my grandchildren that the earth is our home, and the ozone is the roof of that home. Or perhaps more precisely, the insulation in the attic.

Twenty years ago, there was a hole in the roof, and it was getting bigger. There would be a huge hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic.

Twenty years later, we can report gratifying signs of progress.

Thanks to the UN, thanks to governments, thanks to activists, but also thanks to industry for innovative and essential solutions, and thanks to every person working to make a difference for the future of the Earth—our home under that roof.

And we are all making a difference, in our own lives, in the lives of our cities, in the lives of our countries, to secure the future of life here on Earth.

The environment is not only a compelling global issue; it’s one that demonstrates humanity’s capacity for learning, for adapting, for changing. Just consider the changes citizens have made in their daily lives over the last generation in re-cycling things like newspapers, food boxes and bottles. Blue or green boxing is now second nature

The environment is also an issue which reminds us that problems require solutions.

The great challenge of public policy is, as President Kennedy once put it: “to be an idealist without illusions.”

We must all be idealists on the environment. But we must also be without illusions.

We must not make the perfect the enemy of the good.

In the real world, progress comes in stages, and improvement comes before perfection.

The Montreal Protocol is an example of an international treaty that works.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan called it: “Perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date.”

As Canada’s Environment Minister John Baird has said: “It’s not perfect, but it’s the best success of its kind.”

And Elizabeth May, now the leader of Canada’s Green Party but then an adviser to our government, has written that the Montreal Protocol is: “the most significant global treaty to protect life on earth since the 1963 Treaty to End Atmospheric Nuclear Weapons Testing.”

The results speak for themselves.

Last week, Le Devoir carried a startling banner headline on the front page of its Saturday edition: “Le protocole de Montréal plus efficace que Kyoto: cinq fois plus des GES ont été éliminés en protégeant la couche d’ozone.

In translation, the headline reads: “The Montreal Protocol more effective than Kyoto: five times as many GHGs eliminated in protecting the ozone layer”.

Quoting UNEP sources, the article goes on to report: “In 2005, the combined efforts of 191 countries who ratified the Montreal Accord enabled the reduction by 95 percent of substances depleting the ozone layer.”

(En 2005, les efforts combinés des 191 pays ayant ratifié le protocole de Montréal avaient permis de réduire globalement de 95% les substances appauvrissant la couche d’ozone.)

How did we get here, to this twentieth anniversary of the Montreal Protocol, and what progress are we making on the great issue of climate change?

It is no exaggeration to say that twenty years ago, here in Montreal, the global community took the first critical steps to prevent the end of life on earth.

At the time, there was general agreement on the problem, but no unanimous sense of a solution. Even the science was still controversial. Does this sound familiar in terms of today’s debate on climate change? Is there an echo in the room?

One senior U.S. official of the day called on mankind to wear more broad-brimmed hats, and use more sunscreen. But the global community understood that action was required, even before the full implications of ozone depletion were apparent.

The world learned a great deal from the experience of the Montreal Protocol. We learned that it was possible to take action based on incomplete but substantial knowledge. We learned that it was possible to devise a global protocol to eliminate dangerous substances, allowing later science to inform more aggressive action.

The Montreal Protocol was also the first to develop the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. This allowed developing countries to increase the use of ozone depleting substances, while developed nations such as Canada and the United States committed to significant decreases. It also established the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol, providing over $US 2 billion to date to help developing countries phase out ozone depleting substances.

And, not least, the Montreal Protocol involved industry in solutions. Let me cite the example of DuPont, then the largest manufacturer of CFCs.

When we signed the Montreal Protocol, we made it very clear to DuPont that there was no turning back from our determination to eliminate these dangerous ozone-depleting substances. DuPont responded to the challenge by creating innovative technologies that have only made the company more profitable, as well as a world leader in environmental responsibility.

And we now learn from UNEP, as reported by Le Devoir last week, that one of the side benefits of the Montreal Protocol has been an unforeseen reduction in greenhouse gases.

The newspaper’s respected environmental correspondent, Louis-Gilles Francoeur, reported: “The latest calculations of UN experts on the progress accomplished under the terms of the Protocol indicate that the massive reduction of ozone depleting substances over the last 20 years has had a beneficial impact, as important as it was unforeseen, on global warming, because several ozone depleting substances also produced powerful GHGs.”

(Les derniers calculs des experts onusiens sur le progrès accomplis dans le cadre de ce protocole indiquent que le retrait massif des substances appauvrissant la couche d’ozone (SACO) realisé en 20 ans a eu un impact bénéfique, aussi capital que méconnu, sur le réchauffement du climat parce que plusieurs des substances novices pour la couche d’ozone se sont aussi avérées de puissants gazs à effet de serre (GES).”)

As business columnist Peter Hadekel has written: “The agreement showed that the global business community really could respond to a global threat.” He noted the Montreal Protocol “has been extraordinarily effective in phasing out the use of harmful chemicals that depleted the ozone layer in the Earth’s stratosphere.”

And what does the experience of the Montreal Protocol tell us about the prospects for addressing global warming and climate change?

Last year, when a group of leading environmentalists named me Canada’s Greenest Prime Minister—which I regard as one of the significant honours of my life—I offered two observations for addressing environmental issues.

I offer them again.

First, it doesn’t really matter what the process is, so long as the problem is addressed by leadership. Resolute leadership at the national level. And coordinated leadership at the international level, particularly in the global forum of the UN.

And second, there are few durable solutions, on the environment or anything else, without the engagement of the United States and the leadership of its president.

It doesn’t really matter whether the process is called Kyoto, or something else, as long as we are addressing the urgency of global warming. Whether we use the Kyoto roadmap, or another one, the important thing is to get to where we want to go.

We have also needed to get the United States, China and India, among others, seated around the same table to discuss climate change.

When the U.S. didn’t sign Kyoto, it walked away with 25 percent of the world’s GHG emissions. China and India signed it, but neither assumed obligations in the first commitment period, 2008-2012.

Yet India’s GHG emissions could rise by more the two-thirds over the next twenty years. Its energy consumption already doubled in the last two decades of the 20th century.

China is expected to overtake the United States as early as the end of 2007 to become the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases - an 80% increase in greenhouse emissions since 1990 driven largely by increases in consumption of electricity generated from coal. China’s total electricity demand will rise an estimated 2,600 gigawatts by mid-century. Stated another way, China requires the construction of 1 ½ Hydro-Quebecs every year, and Hydro-Quebec is one of the largest electrical utilities in North America.

Fortunately, we are making progress. The United States and President Bush are engaging. And I’m delighted that Canada and Prime Minister Harper are providing leadership.

President Bush has invited the world to Washington later this month for a conference on climate change, to be chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. China and India will be there. This is an important moment. The president of the United States is putting the unique moral authority of his office—what the great environmental president Theodore Roosevelt called “the bully pulpit”—behind a global conference on climate change.

This marks a return to America’s leadership role on multilateral issues. The world must see this for the opportunity that it is to achieve real progress on climate change.

Real progress has already been achieved at this month’s APEC summit in Australia, where Prime Minister Harper played an important leadership role.

Last weekend’s Sydney agreement underlined a shared commitment by developed and developing countries alike to take effective action, through negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to slow, stop and then reverse the global growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

Prime Minister Harper called this “the signature accomplishment” of the APEC summit and a “big, big step” forward for climate change. He is quite right. He is also right in detecting “an emerging consensus on the need for all countries to contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Critics will say these targets are voluntary rather than binding, but the fact is Canada and much of the world have missed the binding targets of Kyoto.

Binding targets, unless achieved, are just that--targets. Results are measured on the bottom line. And when business improves its environmental performance on the top line, the results invariably flow to increased profits on the bottom line.

This was certainly our experience with DuPont on ozone depletion, as well as with Inco and other large emitters on acid rain. Canada’s forest products industry has voluntarily reduced its emissions intensity from pulp and paper mills by 44 per cent since 1990. Alcan, the Montreal-based aluminum company, reduced its emissions intensity by 25 percent, and has committed to a further 10 percent reduction between now and 2010.

Perhaps the enduring value of Kyoto is that it has focused the world’s attention on the importance of climate change, which we first addressed in the Climate Change Convention at the Rio summit in 1992. Kyoto is part of a continuum.

Going forward, the question is how do we get everyone on board in developing a comprehensive post-2012 agreement? Important steps have been taken at this year’s G8 summit and at Sydney, and there is real momentum going into the Washington conference and the next meeting of the parties in Bali.

Whatever the post-2012 agreement is called, it will not be successful without the U.S., China and India. They will be in Washington, and that’s an important step forward.

Let’s get the world to agree on what the world will agree on as we did here in Montreal 20 years ago. That would be a good step forward, it certainly was for the ozone layer. Not perfect, just good. But then, we shouldn’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Thank you very much.

Date modified: