Week 2: Policy windows and links to evidence

I use the example of the recent agreement to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to raise the question of why policy happens at one time and not another and how action is linked to evidence  The evidence (the underlying science) has not fundamentally changed in decades and yet we have seen at best piecemeal progress and a comprehensive international agreement would not have been possible 20, 10 or even 5 years ago.

The traditional example for where science successfully shifts national (and international) policy is the case of the Montreal Protocol and ozone-depleting chemicals, but even that is a case of stops and starts.  In their seminal paper in 1974 Rowland and Molina linked chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) found in air conditioners, refrigerants and propellants to destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer and two years later, the US National Academies of Science supported the claim.  Remarkably, by 1978, the U.S., Canada, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway had agreed to ban CFCs as a propellant in aerosol cans (used in paints, deodorants, etc).

Thereafter though, action slowed.  From 1981, the new Reagan Administration were skeptical about environmental regulation and international efforts stalled.  William D. Ruckelshaus, the widely-respected new head of the US Environmental Protection Agency helped lead renewed efforts and the international community agreed to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in 1985, which was a ‘framework’ agreement that set up the potential for further action.  Quite coincidentally, that same year, the British Antarctic Survey published their findings of an alarming ozone hole that was growing over Antarctica, which provoked a huge media storm over the threat over the impacts of a depleted ozone layer including increased incidence of skin cancer.

This alignment of politics, institutions, media, and evidence led to the Montreal Protocol of 1987, where countries pledged to stabilise production of CFCs with a ten year lag built in for developing countries and the transfer of sufficient resources to support the transition.  The Montreal commitment to stabilise production was deemed inadequate by scientists and was rapidly followed by amendments in 1990 to shift to a complete phaseout and in 1992 to accelerate the timetable even further.  Apart from science and politics, the economic cost was significant but reasonable, amounting to a few billion dollars, which was supported by a new Multilateral Fund and the World Bank. The other advantage was that firms such as DuPont benefited from being the purveyor of the substitute as well as the original damaging substances.  The substitute that replaced CFCs, were non-chlorinated compounds or hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which at the time was recognised as being a long-lived and now the story comes full circle to this past week in Kigali.  The Montreal Protocol is still often seen as the model for the Kyoto Protocol that followed within a decade.

Feel free to comment on the ozone/HFC/climate case, but my preference would be for you to pick a different case where we see successful change (from your sector, from your home country, from today’s or last year’s news) and try to explain how that change came to pass.  Try to outline in no more than a sentence or two each:

  1. the problem
  2. the evidence
  3. the economic interests
  4. the politics of the problem
  5. the availability of policy instruments to address the problem
  6. which policy models best explain the outcomes (you may have to read ahead or skim ahead in the slides from last time)