Ozone layer image. c. Wikimedia CommonsWhy does the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) engage in international treaty negotiations or global fora, such as those sponsored by the United Nations?

After all, aren’t we known for rescuing animals on the ground—stranded dolphins on Cape Cod, roaming dogs in Bosnia, and orphaned elephants in India, just to name a very few?

In a world mired in problems—war, oppression, environmental destruction, and poverty—engagement at such a high level of global governance seems futile at best, utterly hopeless at worst. 

The answer is simple: International action is the only way to address global challenges. And, it works. 

Remember the ozone layer controversy of the 1980s?

The ozone layer of the atmosphere shields us and our animal friends from harmful UV rays, among other things, but some gases manufactured on earth were reacting with the ozone in the sky, reducing its concentration. Ozone depleting gases were found in everyday products such as refrigerants, solvents, or propellants (I remember my sister’s beloved canister of seemingly Liquid-Nails-strength Aqua Net hairspray specifically as being a notorious culprit). 

Then came the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

This international agreement was signed in 1987 and entered into force in 1989. In 2012, the treaty reached universal membership, meaning all 197 Member States of the United Nations have ratified the treaty, and other non-state actors such as the Holy See, the European Union, and the Cook Islands have signed on as well. 

The Montreal Protocol required specific reductions and ultimately bans on the use of ozone-depleting substances.

At the time, it seemed pointless.  And annoying.  And costly considering how much it costs to refill a car air-conditioning unit with non-CFC refrigerant these days. 

Such is the way of both nature and international law. It is a long, slow, costly, torturous process. But, when it works—and everyone complies—it works well.

Chloroflourocarbons (CFCs) were to the 1980s what greenhouse gases are to the 2000s. Most of us couldn’t grasp the concept of reducing or banning something then waiting decades or even centuries for some result we couldn’t see, hear, or touch. CFCs are relatively stable, so it was going to take many years for their negative result of CFCs to fully express themselves, even if all future use was stopped.

READ MORE: IFAW joins an international network to address climate change

Last week, the World Meteorological Organization reported that the ozone layer, as a direct result of the cessation of emissions of CFCs and other ozone-depleting gases, was in fact healing.  Their report said two key things: The Montreal Protocol has led to decreases in the atmospheric abundance of CFCs and other ozone-depleting gases, and the ozone layer is expected to make a full recovery (that is, to 1980 benchmark levels) as early as the 2050 in most parts of the world. 

That’s encouraging news for countries now questioning whether reducing greenhouse gas emissions can actually reduce the threat of climate change.

“The success of the Montreal Protocol should encourage further action not only on the protection and recovery of the ozone layer but also on climate,” said UN Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner. “The Montreal Protocol community, with its tangible achievements, is in a position to provide strong evidence that global cooperation and concerted action are the key ingredients to secure the protection of our global commons.”

It only took 25 years to start closing the ozone hole that we created.

Though there would still be some inevitable warming due to the greenhouse gases that have already been emitted, if we stopped emitting those gases today, we could see a similar leveling or even reduction in overall global temperatures after a few decades as well. Climate change – contrary to some now very fringe beliefs – can be fixed.

But, it will take the same steadfast commitment to change and full compliance as we have seen under the Montreal Protocol.

IFAW will continue to engage with governments and multilateral institutions to ensure that current obligations under international environmental and animal welfare regimes are complied with and we’ll pursue new treaties to sign and ratify that further our goals for animals, even if it takes 100 years to see the results.

–PT 

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Article source: IFAW

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