Emergence of global environmental problems

The United Nations, an international organization that aims to protect the world’s security and peace, has utilized different mechanisms to combat the emergence of global environmental problems, manageable only by the cooperative efforts of states. Significant approaches have been the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1972, and facilitating the establishment of various international regimes. International regimes, or multilateral environmental agreements, reflect the rules, norms, principles, organizations, and decision-making procedures of “shared norms of acceptable behavior among states” (O’Neill 76). The formation and management of regimes involve various processes and actors (listed in Table 1); among all of them, the most significant actor has been the United States.
The United States, “the most powerful state internationally in the post-Cold War era” and one of the main contributors to environmental pollution, has been an active participant in the framing, drafting and signing of most modern time international agreements; however, it has not ratified most of them (DeSombre 204). An international relationships theory claims that “states engage in international cooperation only when they see a chance of relative gains for themselves over others in the international system” (O’Neill 49). The involvement of the United States in the Montreal Protocol and the Basel Convention, the core of the Ozone and Chemicals Regimes respectively, illustrates how the economic interests of the greatest world power could be a driving force in regimes. In the 1980s, both the Ozone and Chemical regimes were established by the UNEP to protect human and environmental health; however, both regimes had different fates. While the creation of an international regime to solve the issue of stratospheric ozone layer depletion is considered the single most successful international regime to date, the barren aims in dealing with hazardous waste has been considered a steep failure.

Although it is successful, the Ozone Regime went long way until its establishment. In 1974, Professors Rowland and Molina identified Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as ozone destroyers (UNEP/GRID 8). CFCs are versatile chemicals invented in 1928 and have a wide range of applications such as refrigeration, air conditioning, firefighting, metal cleaning, and aerosols. But, when they are released into the atmosphere they actually deplete the ozone in the stratosphere. The ozone layer naturally shields Earth’s life from the harmful effects of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation. With less stratospheric ozone, more ultraviolet light penetrates to ground level to damages crops and plastics, and there are more cases of skin cancer, cataracts, sunburn, immune system suppression in organisms, and harms phytoplankton, other plants and animals, and ecosystems as well as causes some surface climatic effect (UNEP/GRID 16-18). In response to the growing concern, UNEP convened a conference in 1977 that adopted a World Plan of Action on the Ozone Layer and established a Coordinating Committee of the Ozone Layer to guide future international action on ozone and periodically to assess ozone depletion (Kauffman 78). Despite the United States aerosol ban and the worldwide consumer response to the ozone issue in 1970s, repeated attempts to develop international cooperation for tackling the depletion of the ozone layer during 1975-1985, which would have led to the negotiation of ozone regime, were unsuccessful (Kauffman 78).

Although the initial reaction of multinational chemical corporations, particularly the American company DuPont and the British company Imperial Chemical Industries, to reduce the production of ODS was resistance, during 1985 to 1988, several events initiated a rapid burst of ozone protection regime formation that produced the first agreement on concrete actions. First were the rise of transnational “green” activism and public awareness and the discovery of the “ozone hole” over the Antarctic in 1985 (Young 28). Second, the presence of conservative governments of the leading nation states, the Regan and Thatcher administrations in the United States and the United Kingdom respectively, and solutions such as the multinational corporation DuPont’s discovery of alternatives to CFCs in 1986 also produced action (Kauffman 81, 86). Connections to the Chernobyl catastrophe in 1986 and the Ozone Trends panel’s link of ozone layer destruction with CFC emissions in 1988 brought even more change (Kauffman 86).

During the negotiations of establishing the Montreal Protocol, the United States served as a driving force in framing and pushing further development of the regime. With both public and chemical industry support behind, the United States took a leadership role in ozone negotiations. It began to pressure European chemical producers to adopt restrictions on CFCs that the United States had already restricted. Although the European regulations remained less stringent than those of the United States, even¬tually American pressure led to the adoption of the Montreal Protocol in 1987. The agreement was in economic interest of American chemical industry because domestic regulatory policies had imposed more restrictions on America than on European competitors (Kauffman 78). Furthermore, the presence of alternative substance to CFCs in American chemical industry along with the international restriction of CFCs posed export opportunities for the industry while disadvantaged European producers who had not developed CFC substitutes (Kauffman 82). The United States ensured that the Protocol commit industrialized nations to an agreement that included trade restrictions in order to guarantee ratifying parties that participation in biding reductions would not place their industries at a competitive disadvantage. The United States ratified the Montreal Protocol despite the limited involvement of developing nations. Moreover, it remains the largest contributor of funding towards the Montreal Protocol (DeSombre 203). The 1990 London Amendment ameliorated the Protocol by establishing an international fund for providing developing countries with technical assistance upon obligations to reduce the consumption and production CFC substances. Along with reaching binding control on industrialized nations, the United States set the terms of future developing nations’ participating in binding reductions within a grace period implementation delay and provisional CFC production.

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