Professor Christopher Dent

More than 30 years on since the landmark Montreal Protocol united the world in a bid to save the ozone layer, an Edge Hill academic reflects on the lessons to be learned in the greatest environmental challenge ahead – climate change. 

When expeditions to Antarctica in the 1980s confirmed that chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), found in household appliances and personal hygiene products, had caused a hole in the ozone layer, the news spurred action from leaders around the world.  

The Montreal Protocol was designed to kickstart the worldwide phaseout of CFCs and to this day remains the only United Nations agreement to be signed by every country in the world. 

Professor Christopher Dent, an international political economist at Edge Hill University’s Business School, believes that a similar, cohesive global response is needed if we are to effectively tackle the urgent climate emergency we are currently facing. 

Prof Dent said: “The Montreal Protocol was one of the earliest truly global environmental agreements. It provided a framework and process to co-ordinate national efforts to reverse the depletion of the ozone later. 

 “It remains one of the most successful global environmental agreements and research shows that the ozone has been slowly recovering since its implementation began around 30 years ago. It’s estimated that the ozone will be back to its 1980 level somewhere between 2030 to 2050.” 

While there is still more to be done, research has shown that the ozone is steadily repairing itself and is likely to heal fully by 2060. 

This progress poses a stark contrast in comparison to the rate of carbon emissions, which are the main pollutant driving climate change.  

He added: “If you contrast this with the broader challenge of climate change the ongoing efforts to reduce carbon emissions through global agreements such as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and 2015 Paris Agreement, we haven’t succeeded at reversing the trend. In 2019, data revealed that global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels climbed to a record high, placing the world at risk of catastrophic climate change.” 

According to Prof Dent, these problems often come down to economics.

He said: “More or less, every single human-made environmental disaster or problem has some sort of economic cause or explanation. The reason why damaging chemicals and substances are still being used is because they are invariably cheaper than more environmentally friendly alternative options, and companies can make more profit by using them.  

“But if international agreements lead to legislation that phases out these substances, and aid given to low-income countries to improve their capacity to develop more sustainable development practices then success similar to that achieved by the Montreal Protocol can be replicated. 

“Climate change is the most pressing existential threat facing humanity. The achievement of the Montreal Protocol demonstrates what can be achieved by a concerted international community effort to resolve environmental disasters in the making.” 

Prof Dent is also the leader of SustainNET, a new collaborative network under the Institute for Social Responsibility for individuals at Edge Hill University passionate about sustainability. As part of his research, Prof Dent is exploring how trade agreements can play a role in tackling climate change.  

Currently, there are just over 300 such agreements in force worldwide, covering around 70 percent of world trade. In his research, Prof Dent has found that just 69 of these agreements contain climate action relevant provisions. He has recently submitted the first of two planned journal article papers on the subject. 

For more information on the Business School and our degree subjects, please visit the subject page. If you are interested in joining SustainNET, please get in contact with Prof Dent directly at dentc@edgehill.ac.uk.