back to all publications

Implementing International Environmental Treaties in Developing Countries: China's Compliance with the Montreal Protocol

CSS Publication Number

It has been widely recognized that environmental protection is a global issue and developing countries are making increasingly significant contributions to global environmental problems. Studies show that the most adverse effects of climate change are likely to appear in developing countries and global emissions of greenhouse gases are unlikely to be controlled without their participation.  However, developing countries that lack technology and resources may demand assistance from developed countries to deal with global environmental problems. Success in protecting the global environment thus depends crucially on the ability of international institutions to design effective international environmental agreements (IEAs) to engage developing countries.  But to do so effectively requires better understanding of how developing countries comply with international environmental treaties. To date, there has been little research on this topic.

China must play a major role in solving global environmental problems because of its size and surging economic growth. After the United States, China is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases that cause climate change, and China is the world's largest producer and consumer of substances that damage the ozone layer. Due to continuous rapid economic growth and the tremendous rise in the demand for automobiles in China, the International Energy Agency predicts that the increase in greenhouse gas emissions in China alone for the 2000 to 2030 period will nearly equal that of all other countries in the world combined.

As the most successful IEA to date, the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer (hereafter referred to as "the Montreal Protocol" or "the Protocol") has involved an exceptionally large number of developing countries. As of July 2003, 130 of the 183 parties to the Protocol were developing countries. The Montreal Protocol stipulates control measures and schedules for countries to phase out production and consumption of chemicals that destroy the ozone layer. These chemicals, called ozone-depleting substances (ODS), include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are used in the production of refrigerators, foams, mobile air conditioning, aerosol sprays, and tobacco; halons, which are used in fire fighting; carbon tetrachloride (CTC) and ethyl chloroform, which are used as solvents in engineering and manufacturing operations; and methyl bromide, which are used in agricultural pesticides and tobacco production. The year 2010 is the deadline for signatory developing countries to completely phase out the use and production of CFCs and halons. The Montreal Protocol also has some unique features, in particular the establishment of the Multilateral Fund (MLF) to provide financial assistance to developing countries. Revisions to the 1987 Montreal Protocol were made in London (1990), Copenhagen (1992), Vienna (1995), Montreal (1997), and Beijing (1999).

China ratified the London Amendments to the Montreal Protocol in 1991 and the Copenhagen Amendments in 2003. China has been the world's leading consumer and producer of ODS since 1996. Developed countries that had previously been the major ODS producers and consumers phased out major halons in 1994 and CFCs in 1996. Meanwhile, during its "grace period" under the Protocol, China's demand for ODS increased due to rapid economic growth. Most ODS targeted by the Protocol are produced and consumed in China, with CFC 11, CFC 12, and halon 1211 being the most prevalent.

China thus far has signed more than 20 international environmental treaties. However, the extent to which it has complied with these IEAs and the factors that have affected its compliance have not been investigated systematically. In this article, I try to fill in this gap by examining China's compliance with the Montreal Protocol. I analyze the behavior of government and industry in response to the Protocol, and the importance of market and political factors. Understanding China's compliance with the Protocol is significant because it may provide an insight into how it will respond to other global environmental problems. It may also shed light on which factors are likely to influence China's (and perhaps other developing countries') success in complying with international environmental agreements.

Research Areas
Urban Systems and Built Environment
Publication Type
Journal Article
Full Citation
Zhao, Jimin. 2005. Implementing International Environmental Treaties in Developing Countries: China’s Compliance with the Montreal Protocol. Global Environmental Politics 5(1): 58-81.