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Environmental protection

PROTECTING THE OZONE LAYER — The United Nations History: Stephen O. Anderson and K. Madhava Sarma, foreword by Kofi A. Annan; Earthscan Co., U.K. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), P.O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya. . 40.

THIS BOOK, written by two stalwarts, connected with the developments leading up to and the happenings that succeeded the "Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer of 1987" is an unusual publication from the United Nations. It documents painstakingly all the preparations and efforts that went into to save mankind from the ill effects of a global phenomenon, which would have caused misery on a large scale if it had gone unchecked.

The actors in the drama were many, drawn from different sections of the society in all countries, including scientists, technologists, diplomats, environmentalists, policy makers, industrialists, governments, non-government organisations, lawyers, specialists in the fields of health, media persons and so on. How they all pulled together to get this protocol through and made it work is described in the style of good historians.

In the short space of a review it is not possible to encapsulate all the material in the book given in such fine detail. The scientific background is given to show how repeated scientific findings were brought to the fore by the UNEP under the leadership of Mustafa Tolba to demonstrate the likely effects of the hole that was appearing in the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, especially in the Polar regions, on human health, agricultural productivity and even global climate.

When the findings reached a stage of the now well accepted precautionary principle and dictated the need for joint action by nations to prevent damage, the diplomatic efforts started running in parallel with further scientific findings not only on the damage to environment but also the best possible ameliorative measures like substitute material for refrigerants, solvents, aerosols and fire repellents, all of which had been using chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other chemical substances which were causing the problem.

The diplomacy slowly brought in all nations in a step-by-step process, whether producers or consumers of CFCs, whether small or big, whether developed or developing. Several formulations were propounded as the basis of some kind of preventive and protective action. Labyrinthine efforts were made to reconcile seemingly conflicting interests of the countries. When at the peak it was decided to adopt the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities", it was possible to evolve the Montreal Protocol. It is considered the first success story in the post-Cold War era of successful global environmental negotiations.

The agony and ecstasy that went into the long-drawn-out process between the Molina Rowland hypothesis on CFCs in early 1970s and the culmination in 1987 are etched into the pages of this volume.

The authors have not neglected the follow-up phase when even more questions arose not only on the nature of the substitute materials but also the very mechanisms of implementation in a rather unequal world. The optimising of the satisfaction of the developing world through special provisions as in Article 5 of the Protocol is sketched.

The two chapters on implementation and compliance complement the earlier chapters in chronicling the twists and turns that went into accommodate all interests in the funding mechanisms, evolving of the concepts of "incremental costs" and democratic governance of the multilateral fund role of the governments and multilateral agencies like the UNEP, the UNDP, the World Bank, and the GEF.

Some questions have partial answers. What is to be done by the acceptance of scientific findings without looking hard at the long-term consequences? Did all the parties take an independent line or did the chemical industry majors play their role to perfection to ensure the markets are undisturbed even in the post-protocol situation? But it would be churlish to deny credit for all the legwork put in by so many to achieve so much, especially when so many diverse interests were at stake.

The quote from Richard A. Benedick is apt: "Much depends on serendipity and on individuals being at the right place at the right time". It is our good fortune that the authors were among them and like God, went so much into detail.


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