Protecting the Ozone Layer: Science and Strategy

Protecting the Ozone Layer: Science and Strategy

Protecting the Ozone Layer: Science and Strategy

Protecting the Ozone Layer: Science and Strategy

Synopsis

This book is the first comprehensive history of international efforts to protect the ozone layer, the greatest success yet achieved in managing human impacts on the global environment. Its arguments about how this success was achieved are both theoretically novel and of great significance for the management of other global problems, particularly global climate change. The book provides an account of the ozone-depletion issues from the first attempts to develop international action in the 1970s to the mature functioning of the present international regime. It examines the parallel developments of politics and negotiations, scientific understanding and controversy, technological progress, and industry strategy that shaped the issue's development and its effective management. In addition, the book offers important new insights into how the interactions among these domains influenced the formation and adaptation of the ozone regime. Addressing the initial formation of the regime, the book argues that authoritative scientific assessments were crucial in constraining policy debates and shaping negotiated agreements. Assessments gave scientific claims an ability to change policy actors' behavior that the claims themselves, however well known and verified, lacked. Concerning subsequent adaptation of the regime, the book identifies a series of feedbacks between the periodic revision of chemical controls and the strategic responses of affected industries, which drove rapid application of new approaches to reduce ozone-depleting chemicals. These feedbacks, promoted by the regime's novel technology assessment process, allowed worldwide use of the chemicals to decline further and faster than even the boldest predictions, by nearly 95 percent within ten years.

Excerpt

Over the past few decades, the possibility of global environmental limits to human civilization has grown increasingly evident. Our encounter with these limits is occurring slowly but can be seen in the growing number of planetary processes that human activities are disrupting. Changes under way in the atmosphere, oceans, land surface, and distribution and rate of extinction of living species all show a clear and increasing human footprint. Although the reality and potential seriousness of these changes cannot seriously be disputed, large uncertainties remain about how they will develop and what threat they pose to human welfare. Faced with such uncertainty, people disagree—sincerely or opportunistically—over how much precaution to take in responding to the changes.

In addition, managing global environmental stresses poses special difficulties because of their scale and their long-term effects. Global-scale issues must be managed internationally, where institutional capacity is weak and each nation would rather let others bear the burden. Long-term issues rarely appear urgent, so more immediate priorities dominate policy agendas. We are tempted to let our descendants— whom we imagine will be richer and know more—take responsibility. In the face of these difficulties, attempts to manage global environmental risks have thus far been strikingly ineffective, with one notable exception.

This book is about that exception: protection of the stratospheric ozone layer. It challenges the orthodoxy of how it was achieved and argues that we can learn from it and apply to other environmental issues much more than has been recognized. The threat to ozone presents the same features—uncertainty, scale, and slow dynamics—that make all global environmental issues so hard to manage. But its management has been a striking success. With near-universal participation of nations and energetic support from industry, the ozone regime has reduced worldwide use of ozone-depleting chemicals by 95 percent, and use is still falling. Critically, this was achieved not by the initial chemical controls but by their rapid subsequent adaptation in parallel with a flood of innovations to reduce use of the chemicals. In this respect, the ozone regime is the first realization of the widely . . .

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