Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Ozone Layer Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: International Maritime Organisation, Albert Embankment, central London
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments:

0955-1045. MT was speaking at the Second Meeting of Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. MT used an autocue so she is unlikely to have departed from her prepared text. THCR 5/1/5738 preserves the autocue strips.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1804
Themes: Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Environment, Science & technology

Mr. Chairman, Dr. Tolba, Mr. O'Neil, distinguished delegates.


May I welcome you to the second meeting of the parties to the Montreal protocol.

We are proud that the United Kingdom has been one of the nations at the forefront of efforts to save the ozone layer, both in the scientific and in the international effort.

And we shall strive to maintain that record.

And, may I pay tribute to the outstanding work done by our executive director, Dr. Tolba. He ensures that the world community gives environmental issues the priority they must have.

And I know I speak for all delegates to this conference when I thank you and your staff for all that you are doing in our common cause.

The science moves on

It is only just over a year since 123 countries met in London for our conference on “saving the ozone layer” .

How matters have moved on in that time!

Science is constantly advancing, as the film we have just seen has shown—and it is still only six years since the British Antarctic survey team first discovered the hole in the ozone layer.

The survey has continued to monitor the situation, and their findings deepen our concern about the extent of the damage. Late last year they reported the first clear signs that the antarctic spring had brought with it ozone depletion as deep as in the worst year to date.

On the broader front of global warming, we have had the scientific report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change.

This brought together the wisdom and scientific expertise of several hundred of the world's best scientists. They gave us an authoritative view of the implications for the world's climate of the enormous increases in carbon dioxide which are reaching the atmosphere year by year:

From our cars,

From our factories and our power stations,

Figures we cannot ignore. [end p1]

Yes, of course the conclusions of science are sometimes controversial. When you get into new fields of knowledge and discovery that is bound to be the case—and we should never disparage the views which do not fit comfortably and conveniently with the majority.

Science has advanced because the scientists were not satisfied with conventional answers.

They put aside hallowed assumptions, Conceived entirely new theories, Tested them, And pursued the evidence to its conclusion.

Our task as governments is this—

It is to follow the best advice available, To decide where the balance of evidence lies, And to take prudent action.

And in this case, every new bit of information which comes along confirms that the ozone layer is being damaged by CFCs and other chemicals: and that if we do not soon succeed in slowing down and then reversing that process, our health and our whole way of life will suffer.

It is ironic that when CFCs were first discovered their great virtue was their chemical stability. But now it is that very stability which leads to problems. They remain in the atmosphere for a very long time, and only when they reach the stratosphere do they break down, with such devastating results for the ozone layer.

The power of popular choice

The other great area of advance in these past fifteen months has been our success in convincing public opinion that this damage is happening, and that we must take action, even if it involves considerable costs.

You see the evidence for this in the far greater number of people who are using their purchasing power in the shops to buy “ozone-friendly products” . At the end of the day it is their habits, their choice of products, the care which they exercise which will be crucial.

And may I say that Britain has called for a European Community initiative on labelling, to harness the power of popular choice for the environment. Labels must provide honest and useful information. People need to know, for instance, that the refrigerator they are thinking of buying is energy efficient, and contains a minimum of CFCs.

Simple slogans like “ozone friendly” can sometimes be misleading, because people often think they mean that the product does no damage to the ozone layer, whereas in reality it may only be a little bit less damaging than the previous version of the same product.

You also see the evidence for the power of people's choice in the response by manufacturers. They are constantly developing substitute technologies, for example, [end p2] New refrigeration equipment, Different aerosol filling plants, Different solvents for cleaning.

And you see it too in the response of governments.

The Montreal protocol was a historic achievement. It provided the first real evidence that the world had the will to cooperate, in order to tackle the major environmental issues. And that was a great international step forward.

Now our task is to build on that achievement, and all we have learned from it, to draw up a convention on global climate change. That ought to be ready by 1992—in time for the UN conference on environment and development.

Where we go from here

Mr. Chairman, so far we have done well.

But, as many of us used to have written on our school reports: could do better.

Let me just remind you of something I said when we last met in London and you've seen also on the film. Even if all the chemicals which damage the ozone layer were banned tomorrow, ozone depletion would continue to get worse for more than a decade. It would still take our planet well beyond the lifetime of all of us here to replenish the ozone already lost.

That is the extent of the damage we have already done.

And I'd like to make just four simple points about the way ahead.

Higher targets, shorter deadlines

First, we cannot delay. We know now that the targets we set ourselves only a couple of years ago are not ambitious enough.

Last week I heard from Mr. Farman of the British Antarctic survey. He told me of the evidence we now have of a 6 per cent reduction in the ozone layer in northern latitudes during the winter.

His message was clear, and I quote:

“The rapid development of the Antarctic ozone hole took us by surprise. We should be warned by that experience that the northern hemisphere trends could also accelerate, this time affecting heavily populated areas of the world.”

Far from indicating that our efforts have so far been enough, we need to speed up action and set ourselves higher targets and shorter deadlines for reducing and eventually eliminating CFCs and halons.

We must also extend the scope of the Montreal protocol to cover other substances such as carbon tetrachloride and methyl chloroform which we now know cause similar damage. These are all man-made products, we know their damaging effect, and we have a duty to correct it. [end p3]

I am told that some heartening progress has been made in the last few days on these points and I hope we shall be able to reach specific agreements at this meeting.

I believe our own record here in Britain shows what can be done. We have already succeeded in reducing consumption of cfcs by 50 per cent—so we're ten years ahead of schedule.

Meeting the technical challenge

Second, we must press on with the search for safe alternatives to the substances which do the damage. That is not an easy task, when one remembers the large number of important uses they have: refrigeration, air conditioning, blood banks, operating theatres, medical aerosols.

But some of our biggest companies, who make or use ozone depleting substances, they're putting enormous effort and investment into this task. For instance ICI have produced a new product— “klea” 134a. The first plant in the world able to produce commercial quantities is nearing completion. 134a contains no chlorine, and therefore has no effect on the ozone layer. And its global warming potential is less than a fifth of the CFCs it will replace.

We should not underestimate the difficulties. Sometimes alternatives to CFCs are unwelcome because they cause different problems: for instance some of the alternative dry-cleaning fluids are highly toxic. Or there are technical problems being experienced in adapting smaller, domestic fridges to CFC substitutes.

But progress is being made all the time. For instance, the UK motor industry aims to reduce its CFC use by 90 per cent by 1995, as a result of adopting alternative foam technology.

As so often in the past, we rely on the skill and inventiveness of our scientists and industrial firms—and they usually come up with the right answers.

We sink or swim together

Now the third point is that we sink or swim together.

However tight the controls in the protocol, we cannot achieve satisfactory results while major producers and users of these substances remain outside it. It is a case of every country taking action if we are to protect all peoples.

At last year's conference there were thirty-four signatories to the montreal protocol. Now there are nearly sixty and we particularly welcome recent signatories from the third world.

But there are over a hundred countries represented here today: and I hope that those who have not yet joined the protocol will decide to do so before this conference ends.

We are all affected by the damage that CFCs do, both to the ozone layer and as greenhouse gases. And it is only when all of us come together to take action that we can get on top of the problem. [end p4]

A helping hand

And my fourth point; a little help goes a long way.

I know there are concerns, understandable concerns, about the consequences for economies and living standards of cutting back on CFCs. And that is particularly true among countries which are still at an early stage of industrial development. They do not want—of course they do not want—to set back their people's hopes for a better life through steady economic growth.

And it is the duty of the industrialized countries to help them obtain and adopt the substitute technologies which will enable them to avoid our mistakes. And an important part of that will be to help them financially, so they can meet the extra costs involved.

Dr. Tolba has proposed an initial three year programme of action, to help them finance studies of how they can meet the requirements of the protocol, as well as to take immediate steps to control their use of ozone depleting substances.

Britain supports this initiative, and we are ready in principle to contribute at least nine million dollars to a programme of action. That would go up to fifteen million dollars if, as we all hope, other major consumers join the protocol.

Taken with the substantial aid for tropical forestry, which I announced in my speech to the United Nations last year, this amounts to an important new direction in the help we give developing countries, making it much more responsive to their environmental problems and needs.

I am sure that many others will follow suit.


Mr. Chairman, each one of these meetings takes us an important step forward in dealing with problems which, only a few years ago, we scarcely knew existed.

The work which we have undertaken together is a model—in its urgency and its effectiveness—for the even greater international effort which will be needed to tackle other dangers to our global environment.

I hope you will enjoy this conference in London, and I wish you well in all your endeavours. Thank you.