Post Stockholm politics UNEP and the case of ozone depletion

The Stockholm Conference framed the environment as an international issue worthy of attention by the United Nations. A major outcome at the organizational level was the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). This new agency was given the primary role of monitoring and assessing the quality of the environment and alerting the world to any environmental danger signals.95 It would come to play a critical role in both the emerging politics of the atmosphere and in science relating to these politics. One of the first issues UNEP tackled was the threat to the stratospheric ozone layer. The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) links climate change to ozone depletion and it is therefore pertinent to examine the background for the ozone regime.

Threats to Earth's ozone layer had previously been connected to the development of supersonic transport, but in 1974 Mario Molina and Sherry Rowland put forward a hypothesis that stable, non-toxic chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) could destroy ozone. This started what has been called an "ozone war" between environmentalists and the industries producing the chemicals.96 As a result of the debate, some countries, including the United States and Sweden, banned the use of CFCs in spray cans, but the US industry argued that tackling the problem on a national basis would create competitive disadvantages. UNEP was the international institution with responsibility for the environment, and in 1975 it took the issue on board.97 Initially, cooperation was focused on monitoring the ozone layer and harmonizing national policies. UNEP saw itself as a facilitator of international scientific consensus, but the Scandinavian countries also wanted political action and pushed for negotiations towards a convention, partly to recognize the 10-year anniversary of the Stockholm Conference.98 Work was thus initiated to create a global framework convention, which was realized in the Vienna Convention on the Protection of the Ozone Layer in 1985.99 Only a few months after it was signed, and when a scientific assessment report was in the final stages of preparation, the British Antarctic Survey reported an unexpected, sharp depletion of ozone over Hal-ley Bay, Antarctica. The Antarctic "ozone hole" caught the attention of scientists, policy makers, and the public alike. Not only did this find speed up negotiations for binding protocols to the framework convention, it also created a public awareness that human society could change the atmosphere in vivid enough terms to make front page news.100

Based on an analysis of the scientific and policy discourses, Litfin has shown how a group of scientific knowledge brokers were able to control, frame, and interpret this new information. Their close interaction with the policy sphere paved the way for mak

95 Stephen O. Andersen and K. M. Sarma, Protecting the Ozone Layer. The United Nations History (London: Earthscan, 2002), 43.

96 Lydia Dotto and Harold Schiff, The Ozone War (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1978).

97 Andersen and Sarma, Protecting the Ozone Layer. The United Nations History, 45.

98 Litfin, Ozone Discourses, 73.

99 Litfin, Ozone Discourses, 74; William C. Clark, Jill J├Ąger, Jeannine Cavender-Bares, and Nancy M. Dickson, "Acid Rain, Ozone Depletion, and Climate Change: An Historical Overview," in Learning to Manage Global Environmental Risk. Vol. 1, ed. Social Learning Group, 21-55 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), 39; Evert Vedung and Erik Klefbom, Ozonhalet. Global, nationellt, lokalt (Stockholm: Liber, 2002), 40.

100 Litfin, Ozone Discourses; Edwards, "Representing the Global Atmosphere," 49.

ing the political regimes effective in reducing the use of CFCs and other ozone-depleting chemicals.101 In addition, one could argue that the existence of UNEP as a new international agency, and with its highly dynamic Secretary General Mustafa Tolba, also played a major role in the ozone science-policy dynamics.102 Not only did UNEP provide an arena for negotiations. It also initiated assessments of the scientific knowledge on which to base policy decisions, thus pushing for consensus and supporting a political legitimacy that individual scientists may not have had.

The Arctic did not play a role in the early ozone discussions. A major reason was that the extremely cold temperatures in the upper atmosphere that contributed to the large ozone hole over the Antarctic were thought to be unique to the southern polar region. Arctic ozone holes are better described as a Swiss cheese and are often caused by dynamic air movement.103 Although the smaller Arctic ozone holes and the downwards trends did not catch the same global attention, they were reported in an assessment of the Arctic environment, where they were discussed as also connected to climate change.104

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