Monday, February 26, 2007

An Heir of Leadership

This is more of a straight post taken from my journal at Slashdot. No redefinition.

The US negotiated the Montreal Protocol in the 1980's to control chlorofluorocarbons which had been shown to disrupt the Earth's ozone layer, allowing ultraviolet radiation to penetrate to ground level. This treaty has, until recently, been considered one of the most successful international treaties ever made. Control of these chemicals has reduced the rate of destruction of the ozone layer, preserving both health and the productivity of agriculture.

The Montreal Protocol was taken an a model for the Kyoto Protocol, aimed at limiting the emissions of greenhouse gases which cause global warming. The problem of greenhouse gases is considered to be more difficult because the mechanism of replacement of chloroflurocarbons needed to make the Montreal Protocol work is not so clearly available for the most important greenhouse gas, CO2. Further, there was a large disparity in the level of greenhouse gas emissions between developed and developing countries and reducing greenhouse gas emissions was thought to impact economic development. So, developing countries were left out of the first round on emissions reductions and had no responsibility, on their own, to limit the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, but rather were to be a testing ground for the efforts of developed nations to assist in economic development while also helping to avoid some of the worst emissions.

While the US negotiated this treaty, there were clear indications that it could not be ratified without stronger commitments from developing countries. In essence, the US negotiated in bad faith.

Now, the problem of economic development is catching up with the Montreal Protocol as well. The substituted materials worked when the demand for them was limited largely to the developed nations, but now economic development has brought in a larger pool of demand html. The substitute chemicals, while better, do not bode well with a much increased load. The solution for this problem may well end up being further substitution such as magnetic refrigeration But the fact of the problem raises another issue. If the Montreal Protocol needs revision, who can provide the leadership to bring this about?

US leadership was crucial to both the Montreal and the Kyoto Protocols but US credibility now lies in shambles because in never intended to implement the second protocol. Yet, the US has most at risk should the first protocol not succeed since mid-latitude food production will be at risk. I would suggest that it is time to end the patronizing attitude that divides the world into developed and developing countries and admit that leadership could come from those who have been left out. China is already taking a lead on renewable energy, and perhaps India could bring us together again on ozone depletion. Hey, Ross, what's that great whooshing sound?

It's everyone else filling the vacuum we've left in credibility space.

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