Our nation and our planet face a significant challenge. Human activities are causing changes that could have a devastating impact on our health and environment. The big question is, Can we do anything about it? Thanks to a lot of hard work, the answer is a definitive yes. We know this because this question predates today’s debate about climate change. It was asked more than 20 years ago, when the global community sought solutions to the problem of ozone depletion. The United States and 23 nations responded with the Montreal Protocol, a landmark treaty that has restored the earth’s ozone layer by eliminating 95 percent of the world’s ozone-depleting substances. Dr. Stephen Andersen of the Environmental Protection Agency was one of the key people who implemented the Montreal Protocol. Two decades later, he is still working at EPA to combat threats to our environment, and he is a big reason to be hopeful that we can beat climate change the same way we beat ozone depletion.
Dr. Andersen has made a career of organizing and inspiring people to solve daunting environmental challenges. He began work on climate and ozone protection in 1974, when he participated in a project to study the environmental effects of supersonic aircrafts. In 1986, he came to work at the EPA’s fledgling Stratospheric Protection Team.
The timing of Dr. Andersen’s arrival at EPA was fortuitous, because the following year would prove to be a watershed moment in the effort to stop ozone depletion, which increased risks of skin cancer and threatened to wipe out crops and ecosystems, among many adverse impacts. The Montreal Protocol of 1987 created a timetable to phase out and eliminate the production of substances that deplete the stratospheric ozone layer, and is widely recognized as the most successful international environmental agreement. In 1988, Dr. Andersen became the founding co-chair of the Montreal Protocol Technology and Economic Assessment Panel. In this position, he secured the voluntary participation of hundreds of industry and military experts to advance the goals of the treaty, which has successfully eliminated virtually all of the world’s ozone-depleting substances.
In many ways, the Montreal Protocol was a victim of its own success. By 2006, some called for dismantling the treaty, claiming it had achieved its goals and outlived its usefulness. Dr. Andersen knew that the Protocol needed to be not only preserved, but strengthened. He assembled a team of scientists to produce a groundbreaking 2007 article entitled, “The Importance of the Montreal Protocol in Protecting Climate.” The team quantified the benefits of the Montreal Protocol, and found that it helped prevent 11 billion metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent emissions per year from 1990 to 2010. These reductions have delayed the impacts of climate change by 7 to 12 years. When combined with voluntary and national measures in the 1970s, the delay in climate change is 35 to 41 years.
As a direct result of his efforts, nine countries, including the United States, agreed in September 2007 to strengthen the treaty, specifically by speeding up the phase-out of hydrofluorocarbons (HCFCs) by more than a decade. The treaty was also strengthened to include mandatory requirements for the first time, and Dr. Andersen provided scientific and technical information to secure the endorsement of officials in China, which is essential to any international effort to combat climate change.
In addition to his work on the Montreal Protocol, the most distinguishing characteristic of Dr. Andersen’s career has been his ability to build partnerships. In 1986, he teamed with Soviet authorities to negotiate the launch of an ozone-mapping spectrometer on a Russian spacecraft—the first cooperative effort by the Russians and Americans to use space technology peacefully. He helped negotiate the phaseout of CFC refrigerator manufacturing in Thailand, and he has succeeded in multiple efforts to forge voluntary partnerships between EPA and industry to advance pro-environment practices.
Dr. Stephen Andersen has proven that we can build the necessary coalitions and take actions to tackle major environmental challenges like climate change. The American people are lucky to have him leading our government’s efforts to confront this historic issue.