Scholarship examining the highly successful ozone negotiations is rare today, as lessons derived from them do not seem to have produced comparable success in climate negotiations. This article argues that there is a “missing piece” critical to understanding ozone negotiation success. I draw on path dependency and feedback literature as well as detailed historical research into the ozone negotiation process to propose a coherent feedback mechanism I refer to as the “green spiral.” In a green spiral, an iterative interaction between negotiation outcomes and changes to the sticky, internal material interests of industry works to make more stringent regulation feasible in subsequent negotiating rounds. Such dynamics offer a consistent explanation for the overall success of the ozone negotiations as well as the timing and nature of individual countries’ shifts in negotiating position and regulatory behavior over time. Understanding environmental negotiation through this lens offers insight into how outcomes of climate and other environmental negotiations might be improved.

The success of the international ozone negotiations led to a period of environmental policy optimism that has since waned as the “lessons learned” from ozone failed to yield comparable success in climate. This article argues that, although a great deal of valuable scholarship on the ozone negotiations exists, there is still a “missing piece” in our understanding—one that is understood in domestic policy making but has rarely been a focus of theory in international policy making. Understanding this missing piece could help us better understand the politics of climate change and the potential for green industrial policy to shape them (Allan, Lewis, and Oatley, this volume).

The missing piece is the iterative interaction of diplomatic outcomes, industrial policy, and industry interest change over time as mediated by sticky changes to the fundamental interests of industry. In this article, I propose that a mechanism I call the “green spiral” can in some cases act across multiple rounds of negotiation to change the fundamental nature of economic groups like industries, adapting them to regulation. These changes feed back iteratively into policy making by increasing what is politically feasible, thus explaining the success of multiround international environmental negotiation. This process elegantly explains both the overall success of multiround environmental negotiations and the “ratchet effect”: if each round of negotiation changes the underlying material interests of industry and hence the supporting interest coalitions, it makes sense that each round could lock in additional gains.

This mechanism thus offers a new lens for understanding long-term success in multiround environmental treaty making through the lens of green industrial policy and particularly the power of resulting technology choice and asset investment to shape policy outcomes. If early-round outcomes fundamentally change industry interests, subsequent negotiations can prosper because the interests of the players involved will converge. To the extent that interest changes are based not only on changes to context or perception but on material sunk costs around green technology choices and the drive to defend those sunk costs, they provide a uniquely powerful force to embed and cement gains in the face of potential backsliding or backlash. Ozone benefited serendipitously from such a process. A precise theoretical understanding is critical to replicating these dynamics intentionally.

In this article, I first review existing theory and introduce my model. I then review the empirical evidence in the ozone case and conclude with a discussion of implications.

Because the scope of a single article does not permit an exhaustive review of environmental negotiation literature generally (see, e.g., Barrett 1998, 2002; Downie 2014; Nordhaus 2015; Putnam 1988; Sandler 2010; Schmalensee 1998; Sebenius 1991; Susskind and Ali 2015; Zartman 1992), I focus mainly on work that deals directly with ozone. Broadly speaking, there are two basic approaches to analyzing ozone success. One asks what made ozone negotiations exceptional relative to other negotiations. The other asks what changed over the course of ozone negotiations that allowed their shift from no regulatory agreement (1985) to increasingly broad and stringent regulatory agreements (1987 and after). Though somewhat artificial, the distinction is useful in separating theories that provide a static view of why ozone negotiations were more successful from those that provide a dynamic view of why the ozone negotiations became more successful across rounds.

When looking at what made ozone negotiations successful relative to other negotiations, scholars often focus on institutional design of the negotiation regime. Of particular note here is the argument that the flexible, multiround convention-protocol design that allowed negotiators to adjust regulation as knowledge advanced contributed to success by minimizing the perceived risk of agreement in any given round (Benedick 1998; DeSombre 2000–2002; Sebenius 1991). Institutionalist literature on environmental treaty design and negotiation is too broad a field to cover comprehensively here; other strands include work on the importance of creating linkages across regimes, institutions, and issue areas (Sebenius 1991; Selin 2010; Susskind and Ali 2015) or the incorporation of enforcement mechanisms that defuse free rider concerns (Barrett 1997).

Other explanations for ozone’s uniqueness focus on the importance of certain characteristics or inputs. Some focus on the role of knowledge and knowledge dissemination structures. For instance, Haas (1990, 1992) argues that ozone success is due to the presence and influence of epistemic communities of experts with shared understandings of the nature of and potential solutions for the ozone problem. Parson (2003) bridges institutional and knowledge-based explanations, arguing that a critical driver of success was institutions in the ozone regime, such as the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel, which helped to clarify the technical feasibility of various solutions and stimulate additional innovation. Issue area characteristics are also potentially explanatory. Scholars commonly acknowledge that climate is simply an inherently harder problem (Sebenius 1991; Thoms 2002). More subtle characteristics also matter, however, like factors that constrain industry preferences and hence regulatory feasibility. Clapp (2003), for instance, identifies technological maturity and the state of scientific knowledge as contextual factors that influence industry regulatory preferences in the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and biosafety issue areas. Her conclusions resonate with dynamics in ozone between mature chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) technology and novel substitute technology. Oye and Maxwell (1994) suggest that the ozone issue area benefited from its “Stiglerian” nature, with regulation offering concentrated benefits and diffuse costs to chemical producers. I myself have argued elsewhere, drawing on both my ozone case work and subnational case studies in climate politics, that the profile of industry types implicated in a given regulatory effort is an important contextual variable determining regulatory feasibility. Finally, some literature argues for the importance of skillful leadership as an input into negotiation success (Benedick 1998).

While the aforementioned scholarship identifies a number of promising lessons about characteristics that supported ozone success, what is inescapable is that substantive efforts to apply design lessons, where possible, to climate have not yielded the results seen in ozone. Ozone negotiations changed radically over time, from stalemate to broad success in seven years (1985–1992). Climate negotiations have produced much less progress after decades. This suggests a turn to analyzing what happened within the course of ozone negotiations to enable this dynamism; where might relevant changes be located?

One locus of change is science and technology. Haas’s argument about the importance of scientific consensus as input to negotiations naturally extends here to suggest that the quality of that input could improve over time. Relatedly, perhaps innovation during the course of negotiations made the elimination of ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) more technically and economically feasible, in turn making regulation more palatable (Sprinz and Vaahtoranta 1994). Or perhaps, as Parson (2003) argues, the institutions of the ozone regime worked over time to increase awareness of feasible solutions. In these frameworks, changing outcomes across negotiation rounds result from improvements over time to scientific and technological inputs into the regulatory process.

Another locus of change is norms and understandings: the construction, evolution, and contestation of norms, knowledge, and ideas across time and the role of this process in shaping understandings of what outcomes are desirable and/or feasible. Work of this type argues that ideas and science are not apolitical inputs but rather the malleable result of actors seeking to influence how ideas and knowledge are attended to, understood, and deployed. Thus, for instance, Litfin (1994, 1995) argues that ozone policy outcomes are products of discourse and contestation changing the understanding and import of ozone knowledge over the course of the negotiations, while Hoffmann (2005) explores the intersubjective construction over time of negotiation participation norms. Here changes in outcomes result from reshaped ideas and understandings across negotiation rounds.

A final locus of change is in the nature and preferences of interest groups: as pluralist models of policy making suggest, the feasibility of regulation could change because the preferences of players within the negotiations changed, rearranging political coalitions. Discourse analysis offers one broadly applicable explanation for interest group preference changes. However, the nature and preferences of industry interest groups in particular are subject to some distinct and uniquely critical dynamics here—industry is particularly powerful; typically most directly impacted by regulation and responsible for practical implementation; and a type of interest group for which the stakes are principally material and even existential rather than normative or ideological.

Therefore important literature on ozone focuses particularly on industry’s role—questions like how industry influences negotiation outcomes and how industry preferences and power can change over time. Falkner (2005, 2008), for instance, sees industry as enjoying structural advantages in interest group competition due to its financial and technological resources. However, he argues, such advantages are deployed in contingent ways, and industry is often characterized by internal conflict. Cleavages that develop within industry over time may increase regulatory feasibility by creating exploitable opportunities for pro-regulatory actors. There is also a moderately rich literature arguing that industry interests and influence can change over time when incentive structures around them change or when they experience exogenous shocks. DeSombre’s (2000) work on “Baptist and bootlegger” coalitions argues that imposing domestic regulation creates incentives for domestic industries to join coalitions for international regulation in order to avoid international disadvantage. Durkee’s (2013) work in law literature on “persuasion treaties” recognizes the critical role of aligning industry interests with state interests in making regulation possible in such treaties. She also focuses on incentive structures exogenous to industry itself—particularly technological development,1 public awareness/opinion campaigns, and the impact of domestic regulatory effects like those described by DeSombre. Finally, Vormedal’s (2012) work on climate negotiations (and briefly ozone) incorporates contextual and incentive factors like regulatory threat, desire to level playing fields, pursuit of innovation, and the lure of competitive advantage into an interesting dynamic model of the relationship between industry interests and regime formation that focuses on the concept of two tipping points in negotiation: first, when a sufficient portion of industry changes strategy from opposing to shaping regulation, and second, when this shift allows a corresponding regulatory expansion.

As with the more structural/contextual explanations reviewed in the preceding paragraphs, there is a great deal of explanatory value to be found in the dynamic arguments reviewed here, but also similarly, there are some weaknesses. The most important is that these explanations tend to be contingent and/or reliant on exogenous factors. For instance, discourse analysis yields useful insights into the dynamics of negotiations but tends to produce ad hoc explanations for specific outcomes and actor positions and their changes throughout the negotiations.

This kind of explanation is frankly undervalued; objective research should report what it finds, even if what it finds is contingent. Per Litfin (1994, 191), “telling a story well” has value, both intrinsically and because it offers “important insights into the policy process in general and perhaps into future events,” pointing out flawed understandings and possible strategies. Nonetheless, this is not proscriptive of systematic explanations; remaining alert for the possibility that more systematic, predictive explanations feed into or run parallel to contingent dynamics could provide useful policy-making insights.

Summing Up

Precisely because some of these explanatory models are ad hoc and contingent, it is not possible to prove a priori that existing explanations categorically do not explain the outcomes we see. It is impossible to rule out, for example, that differences in discourse contestation account for differences between ozone and climate outcomes. Rather, I propose that while these explanations do have a great deal of explanatory value, they also have enough weaknesses to allow for the possibility of a missing factor distinct from existing explanations; that this factor is persuasively identifiable in the empirical record; and that it suggests some useful, predictable dynamics that complement contingent explanations and provide nuanced explanations for the pace and character of progress seen in ozone negotiations.

As I argue herein, that factor is iterative policy–industry feedback mediated by concrete, material changes internal to industry. The model I propose thus falls into the strands of literature that identify dynamic processes predicated on the interaction between industry interests, on one hand, and national negotiating positions/international regulatory outcomes, on the other. However, as I discuss in more detail in the following pages, it is distinct from other dynamic, industry-focused explanations in that it focuses on internal, material changes to industry rather than exogenous or contextual changes around industry as critical to substantive changes in outcomes over time, and it more explicitly emphasizes iterative feedback across multiple rounds.

In seeking this missing factor, I draw on a growing field of literature on positive feedback dynamics that has emerged to explain climate and energy policy making mainly at domestic and subnational levels. I propose that the missing factor in understanding the highly successful ozone negotiations is iterative policy–industry feedback, and specifically, feedback that is based on costly, sticky material changes internal to industry.

Policy-making feedback literature traces back to seminal works on path dependency in domestic policy making (Patashnik 2003; Pierson 2000). It moved into environmental politics literature through lock-in theory, where Unruh (2000, 2002) used path dependency to explain inertia in existing energy systems. More recently, a robust literature has begun to emerge using path dependency and feedback dynamics to explain systemic change rather than systemic inertia. (Aklin and Urpelainen 2018; Biber 2013; Kelsey and Zysman 2014; Kelsey et al. 2014; Knox-Hayes 2012; Meckling et al. 2015). However, these are mostly comparative works on national and subnational policy making; feedback models of this type have generally not previously been advanced as a major explanation for international environmental negotiation outcomes.

A few exceptions from the literature reviewed come close. Falkner highlights the importance of industry evolution and diversification in achieving later-round outcomes; although Falkner’s theoretical focus is on explaining why and how business exerts power rather than on feedback per se, the subject matter is similar enough that he describes some of the specific empirical dynamics I address herein. Both Durkee and DeSombre provide compelling explanations for early-round progress in international ozone regulation that essentially involve domestic-to-international feedback. Vormedal provides insight into the relationship between changes in interest coalitions and expansion in regulatory possibility. However, there is a complex, coherent feedback process in the ozone issue area, stretching across its full timeline and relying specifically on internal changes to industry, that merits better characterization.

My argument characterizes that feedback process—which I term a “green spiral”2—and its microfoundations: sticky, internal changes to industry. My argument is not particularly innovative from a raw data perspective. The ozone case is well studied, with multiple detailed treatments. Both Parson (2003) and Falkner (2005, 2008) have covered much of the same ground in terms of laying out the history of industry in the ozone negotiations. Falkner especially highlights some of the specific feedback events I discuss here, most notably the bifurcation seen between chemical companies that made different investment choices in ODS substitutes and the ways those different choices fed back into international negotiation positions on regulation of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) in subsequent rounds.

What I contribute is as follows. First, the green spiral model of iterative feedback speaks to existing literature by drawing together disparate feedback dynamics previously observed by various scholars into a coherent explanatory framework for international negotiation outcomes in the form of the green spiral model of iterative feedback. By extending path dependency and feedback theory more explicitly into the international environmental negotiations sphere, my work adds important structure to existing theoretical frameworks of ozone success.

Second, I highlight the critical nature of feedback operating not only through changes to external incentive structures and responsive corporate strategy but through sticky, internal changes to industry, that is, changes that are internal to companies (not contextual), costly (lack of return on investment would be a serious financial blow), and not readily fungible (resources used cannot easily be reassigned or reused). In practice, this frequently means major sunk-cost investment in assets core to company operations, such as commercial-scale production facilities or infrastructure. An industry actor that makes multi-hundred-million-dollar investments into production facilities must get a return on those investments. Therefore it is, from an interests perspective, a different actor than it was before building those facilities. It has gone from being an actor that perhaps could produce a new product to one that must produce that product. These changes in turn change its preferences in regulatory policy making.

We miss this if we focus primarily on drivers exogenous to companies. When, for instance, domestic regulation creates incentives to seek internationalization, what has changed is the external context constraining industry strategy. Such changes are unstable if the external structure shifts back and the interest change is not otherwise embedded.

Feedback based on sticky internal changes linked to particular technology and asset investment choices provides a compelling, systematic framework for understanding the granular outcomes of multiround international environmental negotiations at the level of specific states and chemicals—granular outcomes that existing literature either does not explain or offers mainly ad hoc explanations for.

It does this in a way that should be seen as supplementing and grounding contingent explanations. As Litfin (1994, 194) puts it, discourses “do not solve environmental problems—they merely offer alternative interpretive lenses … that lend themselves to certain policy solutions.” The dynamics I lay out here suggest under what conditions some contested policy-making processes do ultimately crystallize and harden around strengthening regulation: this is systematically more likely if sticky industry investment creates sticky interests that make pro-regulatory discourse durably preferable.

This model produces useful theoretical implications. One is that a “ratcheting up” of regulatory stringency across rounds depends at least partly on whether industry’s sticky internal interests change between rounds: are major new capital investments made? This implication is both predictive and prescriptive: it helps us understand the likelihood of positive feedback and suggests a lens for designing early-round policy to maximize next-round feasibility.

Another implication concerns the limitations of technological innovation alone as a driver of feedback. Using innovation to reduce resistance to regulation stemming from lack of viable solutions is important to some analyses of the Montreal negotiation (Durkee 2013; Sprinz and Vaahtoranta 1994) and relevant to others. I suggest, however, that the critical inflection point occurs when industry has made investment in major assets. Industry can back-burner research results without significant opportunity cost; R&D expenditures are typically smaller and understood as risky. It cannot do the same with idle factories.

Third, the green spiral mechanism neatly addresses the apparent epiphenomenality of individual rounds of ozone negotiation viewed in isolation (Murdoch and Sandler 1997). The epiphenomenality argument begs the question of why the configuration of interests that dictates a particular outcome in a given round changes between rounds—as occurred in ozone. The answer: industries themselves actually fundamentally change between rounds of negotiation, in response to negotiation outcomes.

In what follows, I first lay out the green spiral mechanism before turning to an empirical analysis divided into two sections: first, a timeline overview lays out the sequential nature of the shifts in policy and in industry, supporting my general argument that the green spiral mechanism is present, and second, I discuss in greater detail key points of evidence that demonstrate specific aspects of the green spiral.

The green spiral, when it occurs, works as follows (see Figure 1):

  1. Initial policy moves—that is, a first-round treaty—create an initial regulatory stimulus.

  2. Industries respond by adapting in sticky ways, that is, with costly new capital investments.

  3. These responses fundamentally change industry interests.

  4. As a result, the type and direction of influence exerted by industries on policy makers shift.

  5. These shifts in influence increase the feasibility of more stringent policy making.

  6. Subsequent policy making proceeds based on this new interest configuration, enabling additional or stronger policy moves.

  7. These subsequent policies provide new stimuli for more change, initiating more feedback.

Figure 1.

The Green Spiral Mechanism

Figure 1.

The Green Spiral Mechanism

The core of this concept is an iterative, multiround interplay between policy and industry. Over time, this process can lead to a paradigmatic shift of the economy and policy framework toward a fully regulation-adapted industrial ecosystem, in which parts of industry that were in early phases harmed by regulation would instead be harmed by regulatory regression.

To assess the empirical evidence, I first lay out observable implications of this mechanism in some detail.

  1. Temporally sequenced phases of policy-making and industry internal reconfiguration. The presence of these fundamental components of the spiral mechanism is a basic requirement for us to believe that the mechanism could be at work. They include initial regulation resulting from negotiation, subsequent industry response in the form of sticky sunk costs and abandonment of old (polluting) costly assets, and appropriate changes in regulatory outcomes in the next round of negotiation. The process may continue through multiple iterations.

  2. Evidence consonant with reciprocal causality. Definitively proving causal connections between policy moves and industry shifts is difficult. However, we could expect to observe things like evidence of influence and influence activities (lobbying, pro-regulatory discourse, etc.) and attribution of changes in industry behavior to policy, and vice versa by contemporaries.

  3. Nuanced correlation between national industry changes and national negotiating positions. This is in terms of both overall position (pro/con) and the form of regulation favored.

  4. Lack of industry evolution correlated with absence of policy evolution. Sometimes novel issue areas are raised late in negotiation, as when a new ODS is discovered. We would expect these cases to be less permissive to strong regulatory outcomes than issue areas that have undergone prior feedback. Methyl bromine will be discussed as an example of this in the ozone negotiations.

My empirical analysis is based on process tracing using extensive, detailed review of general news reporting and chemical industry reporting between 1985 and 1995, a period chosen because it contains virtually all of the significant change in outcomes across negotiating rounds. In addition to general exploratory searches around ozone depletion, and negotiations, I pulled reporting from LexisNexis via extensive queries including queries returning all articles with the names of relevant chemicals (e.g., “hfc-134a”) during the period of interest, as well as paired keyword queries on companies and ozone (e.g., “dupont” + “ozone”) during the period of interest. Review was comprehensive, not sampled—all articles found were reviewed. I also reviewed related materials like company annual reports, contemporary analyses, and academic sources. Because companies prefer to maintain control over sensitive internal data, it is difficult to find comprehensive, directly comparable cross-company information on topics like total capital expenditure on new facilities for specific products. As a result, much of this assessment is necessarily qualitative—as with the summaries of investment and investment aggressiveness for the industry actors presented in what follows. They are nonetheless aggregations of extensive, detailed research, incorporating contemporary assessments by specialist chemical industry news reporters and backed where possible by reference to specific instances of relevant investment.

Ozone Depletion and Early Responses

Public concern over the potential for dangerous ozone depletion due to chemicals collectively known as ozone-depleting substances is generally dated to a publication by Molina and Rowland in 1974 (interestingly, CFC producers were concerned about environmental impacts of CFCs as early as 1972; Powell 2000, 357). By the mid-1980s, advancing scientific knowledge triggered a multiround, multilateral negotiation process to create international regulation to control the emission of ODSs (Benedick 1998, 14–18).

The multiround negotiation process took place under the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, negotiated in 1985. Rounds of negotiation occurred regularly thereafter, with the most important rounds being Montreal (1987), London (1990), and Copenhagen (1992), although negotiations over details continued thereafter. Both the overall success and the rapid and accelerating pace at which regulatory moves proceeded are noteworthy, particularly given that the process began with broad resistance to significant regulation as late as 1985 and had largely arrived at a solution by 1992.

The Major Players

The production of CFCs—the most important ODS—at the beginning of the negotiations was concentrated largely in a few key producers: DuPont (and to a lesser extent Allied-Signal [Allied]) (United States), Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) (United Kingdom), Atochem (France), and Hoechst (Germany). In practice, regulatory outcomes are well explained by aggregating the positions of the four core producer countries and their companies. Therefore my analysis will focus on these players. (See online Appendix A, however, for more detail on secondary players, company roles, market share, and the justification for this focus.) Similarly, I will focus on the core ODSs (CFCs) and their substitutes (HCFCs and HFCs) with one digression into methyl bromide, an ODS discovered late in negotiations.

This section orients the reader to the case’s timeline and demonstrates the overarching temporal sequencing discussed earlier, with initial regulation in Montreal, costly industry adaptation and changes in interests, more stringent regulation in London, further costly industry adaptation and interest changes, and even more stringent regulation in Copenhagen. The overview is highly condensed; the reader will find much of the necessary detail provided in Figures 2 and 3 and summarized in broad strokes in text. Because these figures provide the most compact summary of the empirical work, I have presented them first, with the text serving to expand upon them. A substantially more detailed discussion is available in online Appendix B.

Figure 2

Timeline of Identifiable Investments by Company

Figure 2

Timeline of Identifiable Investments by Company

Figure 3

Country Negotiating Positions and Industry Investment Patterns

Figure 3

Country Negotiating Positions and Industry Investment Patterns

Prologue: Pre-Vienna to Montreal (Pre-1987)

From the initial characterization of the ozone problem up to 1985, concern over ozone depletion was most concentrated in the United States and a handful of relatively small northerly countries. The United States had imposed some domestic regulation under the Clean Air Act. The United Kingdom, France, and Germany were all generally opposed to regulation of CFCs, with the United Kingdom tending to lead resistance (Benedick 1998, 38). The European Community (EC) had placed essentially toothless controls on aerosols; other measures proposed at the time failed (Haigh 1990, 266; Jachtenfuchs 1990, 263).

The 1985 Vienna Convention, reflecting majority resistance to regulation at the time, did not impose any actual ODS controls. Consequently, industry interests stayed relatively static immediately between Vienna and Montreal. The exception was Germany’s shift to a pro-regulation stance in 1986—the only major shift in these negotiations that does not clearly mirror shifts in industry interests. Germany remains anomalous throughout negotiations. Its baseline appetite for green policy appears unusually strong; once German environmentalists became focused on ozone as an issue, they swung consumer behavior and domestic regulation rapidly, largely without industry cooperation. Because this strong baseline appetite for regulation existed, the industry investment-mediated feedback seen in the other countries was simply irrelevant to the German domestic case; strong regulation proceeded without coalition expansion. This suggests a scope constraint for the proposed mechanism; see online Appendix B for more discussion.

First International Policy-Making Round: The Montreal Protocol (1987)

Negotiation in 1987 yielded the Montreal Protocol, the first significant international regulatory move. It reflected a mix of interests. Germany’s 1986 shift, with institutional shifts in the governance of the EC, meant that sufficient pro-regulatory weight existed to support initial regulation. However, enough opposition remained that measures agreed upon were moderate: a freeze on core CFCs with a partial phaseout (50%) over ten years and a freeze on halons starting in 1992.

First Phase of Industry Responses: Montreal to London (September 16, 1987–June 27, 1990)

The Montreal Protocol confronted the CFC industry with the first concrete global phaseout schedules for CFCs. All of the major players took some steps toward commercialization of substitutes. But level and type of activity varied, along two dimensions.

First was pace of action: did a company make aggressive early investments, or did it invest moderately/weakly? Product commercialization typically proceeds through predictable milestones: research and development (R&D), pilot production, planning/design for commercial-scale production, construction of initial commercial-scale production facilities, and expansion to larger and/or multiple facilities. Major capital investment occurs in the last two steps. Between Montreal and London, potential substitutes were still undergoing safety testing; companies that sunk costs in commercial-scale production facilities during this period were making aggressive investments. Companies that stopped at piloting were making weak-to-moderate investments.

Second was type of investment: did the company focus on intermediate substitutes (HCFCs, with weaker but nonzero ozone depletion potential [ODP]), full substitutes (like HFCs, with zero ODP), or both? This choice involved a risk trade-off. Partial substitutes were better known and could more readily fill the gap but risked eventual phaseout; full substitutes were more expensive and less well tested but offered a longer-term business.

US companies ranged from aggressive to moderate across both full and partial substitutes. DuPont’s investment was aggressive, with commercial-scale facilities under construction for both full and partial substitutes.3 Allied was more moderate, piloting and planning only, and with a greater emphasis on partial substitutes.4

The United Kingdom’s ICI invested aggressively on full substitutes, and construction started on one commercial-scale facility.5 It was less active in partial substitutes.6 ICI publicity as late as March 1988 was still against phaseout acceleration (Benedick 1998, 103; Jordan 1998, 32), but internally it was aggressively shifting its core business.

France’s Atochem made fairly weak initial investments, largely piloting and planning.7 Acquisition of Racon and Pennwalt gave Atochem its only commercial-scale substitutes facility prior to London, a Pennwalt plant conversion for partial substitute HCFC-141b. But it also made Atochem the only major company to expand legacy CFC capacity during this period.8 Benedick (1998, 103) quotes French commentary that “Atochem, rather than expanding research into CFC substitutes, ‘seems to prefer to deploy most of its efforts toward maximum use of exceptions provided for by the Protocol.’”

Germany’s uniquely strong green politics kept German producer Hoechst from either defending its legacy CFC business or moving aggressively on substitutes. CFCs were clearly a losing proposition in Germany,9 and Hoechst began planning to phase out CFCs entirely by 1995, well ahead of regulatory schedules.10 But environmental concerns about substitutes effectively kept Hoechst out of that business too.

Second International Policy-Making Round: The London Amendment (June 27–29, 1990)

The London Amendment reflected a shift in balance of power toward more aggressive regulation, in parallel to shifts in domestic interests. Specifically, the United Kingdom swung to the pro-regulation coalition, a shift often attributed to recognition by the British of increasing evidence for the loss of ozone.

However, the updated configuration of country positions entering the London meeting tracks well with what we would expect simply from looking at the shifts in domestic industry interest configurations. Strong US industry responses to Montreal reinforced its pro-regulatory stance, while weak French industry responses allowed it to remain resistant. But the United Kingdom, where industry invested aggressively, shifted from opposition to support of regulation, and that swung the EC position as a whole from resistant to supportive. The result was a tightened phaseout schedule for CFCs, with tougher interim targets (reduction to 50% by 1993; 15% by 1997) and full phaseout in 2000. Halon regulation was also tightened, with phaseout now set for 2000. In addition, new chemicals were addressed: methyl chloroform and carbon tetrachloride were regulated, while HCFCs were cataloged in a treaty annex with no phaseout targets set.

Second Phase of Industry Responses: London to Copenhagen (June 1990–November 23, 1992)

Industry activity following London increased in pace and scope. By Copenhagen, all major players except Hoechst had significant sunk capital investment in commercial-scale production facilities. Moreover, the substantive interests CFC producers had in legacy CFC production dwindled rapidly. By 1991 through 1992, companies were shutting down these facilities and relinquishing those sunk costs.11

The United States’ story continued to be a mix of strong investment in full and partial substitutes. DuPont continued aggressive investment in full substitutes, with two more plants completed, one under construction, and three in planning/design by Copenhagen.12 It also continued moderate efforts in partial substitutes, completing one plant.13 By 1992, DuPont had invested more than US$ 400 million in CFC alternatives (E. I. du Pont de Nemours 1993) and was signaling disappointment with demand growth; one official noted that faster CFC phaseout would spur demand.14 Allied, meanwhile, pushed ahead with partial substitutes, completing a plant conversion,15 and announced plans for a full substitute plant.16

The United Kingdom’s ICI remained a leader in the full substitutes, completing a second plant and beginning construction on a third,17 but was essentially inactive in partial substitutes.18 Like DuPont, ICI expressed concern about the fact that the market for HFC-134a was not growing as fast as expected.19

France’s Atochem now aggressively invested in the partial substitutes, expanding capacity at the Pennwalt plant, and started up a large additional plant.20 By late 1991, partial substitutes were being criticized for their ODP; Atochem, increasingly committed, issued a statement backing HCFCs as necessary near-term solutions.21 It also invested strongly in full substitutes, with one plant completed and another planned.22 Atochem, too, experienced difficulty with low demand and did not initially operate its full substitute plant at full capacity.

Germany’s Hoechst remained largely out of the game. Although reporting is unclear, Hoechst did not appear to have any commercial-scale capacity in service in Germany by Copenhagen.

Third International Policy-Making Round: Copenhagen (1992)

The outcome in Copenhagen was again consonant with the shifts in industry interests observed. By the negotiations, all major CFC producers had significant sticky capital investment in full and/or partial substitutes. They were increasingly concerned about lagging demand, particularly in HFC-134a. Several had openly stated that further tightening of the CFC phaseout schedule might consequently be desirable. In negotiation, accelerated phaseout of CFCs, halons, carbon tetrachloride, and methyl chloroform was agreed to with little controversy (Benedick 1998, 203). None of the original major players remained resistant.

Tension between major players remained in two significant regulatory areas. Positions on HCFC controls differed, consonant with varied domestic industry investment; the result in Copenhagen and subsequent rounds was weak HCFC controls. Second, a new ODS, methyl bromide, entered negotiation for the first time with a different profile of interests leading to novel alignments of key players. Because both of these provide specific lessons for our understanding of feedback dynamics, I address them in greater detail.

Temporally Sequenced Phases of Policy Making and Industry Reconfiguration

As I have argued, the history of ozone negotiation presents a strong picture of temporally sequenced phases of feedback between treaty outcomes and shifts in industry interest. The Montreal Protocol triggered shifts in sticky industry investment, expanding the window for further regulation, which the London Amendment delivered. Post-London, industry made more sticky investments, resulting in concerns about overcapacity. Subsequently, the major players in negotiations were largely united around further ratcheting up CFC controls in Copenhagen.

Evidence Consonant with Reciprocal Causality Between Policy Shifts and Industry Shifts

The case provides good reason to believe that there was a causal relationship between the regulatory outcomes of negotiating rounds and subsequent industry responses. This is particularly easy to see around the Montreal Protocol. Before Montreal, industry had done substantial substitutes development. For instance, in a chapter contributed to the charmingly titled volume Fluorine Chemistry at the Millennium: Fascinated by Fluorine, Richard L. Powell (2000), an ICI fluorine chemist, recounts that ICI had by 1975–1976 identified HFC-134a as a promising substitute and begun work on production processes, with a plant planned by 1979. But this was subsequently suspended as perceived urgency waned and apparent market prospects dimmed. Benedick (1998, 53) similarly describes industry as not far from commercialization but unwilling to commit further funds in absence of regulation. Only post-Montreal did companies take costly steps to commercialize and build production capacity for these substitutes. The outcome of the London negotiation subsequently appears to have accelerated investment by Atochem, the remaining laggard.

Observable pathways for industry influence on negotiating positions do in fact exist. Lobbying occurred both directly and via industry groups throughout. In the pre-Montreal period, we already observe antiregulation lobbying of the EC by the European Council of Chemical Manufacturers Federations (Benedick 1998, 39); meanwhile, public support for some level of controls emerged in the United States from the Alliance for Responsible CFC Policy (ARCP; 1987), a CFC producer/user consortium.

Post-Montreal, signals of pro-regulation or regulation-tolerant industry influence strengthened in the United States and appeared in Europe. In 1988, ICI requested international consideration for strengthening of CFC regulation (Benedick 1998, 118), and the ARCP began supporting phaseout (Benedick 1998); in 1992, ARCP called on the US Environmental Protection Agency to exceed the London agreement requirements, eliminating CFCs in 1996. Industry also contributed to advancement of science (Benedick 1998, 30) and epistemic consensus (Benedick 1998, 200).

Contemporary observers assigned causal meaning between industry influence and country negotiating positions. For instance, Haigh (1990, 267–269) attributes the toothless EC regulation of the pre-Montreal period to industry preference and the United Kingdom’s opposition to direct pressure from ICI. Jordan (1998, 28), too, describes British ozone policy prior to negotiation as shaped by the “strong, trusting relationship” between ICI and the British government. The EC’s early position on regulation was thought to be heavily influenced by the United Kingdom’s opposition to regulation (Haigh 1990, 269).

During negotiations, both Markus Jachtenfuchs (1990) and Richard Benedick (1998) reported industry influence. Jachtenfuchs in particular noted of the United Kingdom, “Only after ICI, the UK’s biggest producer, had lifted its total opposition to further reductions did the British government soften its position within the Council, thus following the policy of ICI,” and of France, “The French government for its part did not change its position as long as Atochem was not willing to reduce its production” (Jachtenfuchs 1990, 268). Benedick (1998, 197) credits US industry for causing President Bush in 1992 to authorize phaseout of multiple ODSs by 1996, ahead of schedule, a reversal of his previous position.

Nuanced Correlation at the National Level Between the Strength and Type of National Negotiating Positions and Results of National Industry Responses

As described, shifts in individual countries’ overall position on regulation generally matched well with the evolution of their individual domestic industries. The contrast between the United Kingdom and other European countries is particularly illustrative; countries whose industries invested more slowly than the United Kingdom’s, like France’s Atochem—but also Italy/Montefluos—shifted position on negotiations more slowly.

Industry investment choices between full and partial substitutes also predict national negotiating positions among relevant regulatory options. Between London and Copenhagen, the EC became more hawkish on partial substitute phaseout than the United States, ultimately pushing the United States faster than it wanted to go. The correlation of national industry sticky capital investment with national and EC negotiating positions here is highly suggestive (Falkner [2005] draws the same causal conclusion). US industry had two industry interest–based reasons to defend HCFCs in later rounds of negotiation. First, Benedick (1998, 205) attributes the reversal of positions on HCFCs to the fact that the United States had a larger capital stock of legacy refrigeration and air-cooling equipment, for which HCFCs might be necessary in the short term. Here the United States already had an industry interest that was difficult to shift quickly. But equally importantly, the leading US ODS producers had invested actively in HCFC production capacity—creating new sticky material reasons to defend partial substitutes.

Meanwhile, of the major European producers, Germany phased out partial substitutes entirely by fiat, along with CFCs, eliminating Hoechst’s interests in them. The United Kingdom’s ICI had focused from the start on zero-ODP substitutes rather than pursuing partial substitutes. This difference in priority meant that the United Kingdom, up to that point a bellwether for EC negotiating position, had an interest in preventing the undermining of HFC market growth by HCFCs (Jordan 1998, 36) and in gaining advantage relative to its rivals abroad. France, with major HCFC investments, failed to dictate the EC position but did make statements tacitly supporting the US position.23

Two of the three major players in Europe had already chosen or been forced to abandon partial substitutes, while US and French companies were still pursuing them fairly aggressively. National negotiating positions on type of regulation stayed consonant with these shifts (Benedick 1998, 291–292), and this created a conflict in negotiations that lasted for more than a decade.

Lack of Industry Evolution Correlates with Absence of Policy Evolution

The case of methyl bromide demonstrates some of the boundaries of policy–industry feedback. (See Appendix C for more detailed discussion of this interesting subset of the case.) Negotiation around methyl bromide (MB), a chemical fumigant used in the agriculture industry and newly identified as an ODS, was initiated in the 1992 Copenhagen round. A different set of key players was implicated, including the United States, France, Israel, several southern European states, and many developing countries. Initially, countries could only agree to a freeze at 1991 levels in 1992 negotiations; later, in 1995 negotiations, they agreed to a “phaseout” in 2010 with interim targets, and in 1997, that was advanced to 2005. However, throughout, the United States in particular insisted on big “essential use” carve-outs for its agricultural industries, making “phaseout” a questionable term in context (Parson 2003). The United States didn’t truly eliminate soil fumigant use of MB until 2017.

The MB negotiation demonstrates two interesting things. One is a point of evidence for the green spiral’s importance: lack of industry evolution correlates with absence of policy evolution. The users of MB came to negotiations with no policy–industry feedback history and no prior sticky material investments in substitutes. The result was basically a repeat of the CFC story, seven years later: initial deadlock, then a freeze, and then a slow ratcheting up of regulation, contested by particular interest groups. Although science and treaty structure had both significantly advanced since 1985, a lack of fundamental evolution in relevant industry interests reset the regulatory process to square one.

The second is the importance of issue area characteristics to understanding the potential for a green spiral dynamic in a particular area. Such a dynamic did eventually occur here: ultimately, fumigant manufacturers like Dow AgroSciences can be seen making investments in production capacity for new products and supporting MB phaseout. But the process was slowed by the fact that the initially available substitutes were old, commodity chemicals, not high-value, novel replacements like HFCs, and by the fact that the interests that initially framed the United States’ response were agricultural users, for whom regulation presented no opportunities to invest in big new factories, rather than fumigant manufacturers, for whom it did.

I have argued throughout this article that the presence of a green spiral based on shifts in sticky material interests convincingly explains core dynamics of the ozone negotiations: it fits the overall outcome, the variation seen in individual nations’ differing positions and rates of change, and the nuanced successes and obstacles seen with different chemicals.

This framework integrates usefully with existing theory rather than attempting to supplant it. It is clear that multiple favorable drivers combined to create the ozone success; viewed against this backdrop, my particular framing may appear rather trivially different from previous ones. To give an example, given the overall rapid pace of success, does it really matter that sticky investments in partial substitutes (HCFCs) held back the phaseout of those particular substances until 2020? From the perspective of reversing ozone depletion, the differences are minor.

But what creates subtle dynamics in ozone has potentially enormous implications for areas like climate, where the initial drivers do not as heavily favor success. That matters because it suggests a set of distinct, important policy implications for “difficult” multiround negotiations.

Policy Implications

First, when deciding how to spend diplomatic capital in a particular negotiation or policy-making round, policy makers need to consider whether initial regulatory moves will spur sticky sunk-cost investment that companies will be motivated to defend in the future, changing their interests in the next round. “Low-hanging fruit”/“no regrets” regulation (e.g., a weak carbon price in climate) often encourages cheaper “tweaks,” such as efficiency improvements, that may actually render legacy assets more valuable rather than creating sticky novel asset investment.

Second, policy makers should consider the points of highest leverage and scope conditions for inducing shifts in industry’s sticky material interests. As I have argued elsewhere, some “convertible” industries—like the CFC manufacturers in ozone or utilities in climate—are particularly amenable to feedback-producing shifts in interest (Kelsey 2018). Where industry is heterogeneous, this may constrain or channel feedback. Moreover, feedback is temporally constrained; investment takes time. Iterative feedback likely has a maximum pace that might be worth considering in structuring negotiation schedules. Finally, as this case shows, industry consists of strategic actors that may not respond uniformly to open-ended regulatory signals; there are potential trade-offs between regulatory flexibility and feedback impact. Institutions may mediate this; productive feedback could be easier to elicit in corporatist economies or top-down guided economies where there are more options for targeted regulatory tinkering; this has implications for their roles in international negotiations. All these points suggest fruitful avenues for further research.

Third, not only should policy makers consider whether initial regulation will spur sticky investment, but they should also consider the potential for feedback to reinforce troublesome diversions or dead ends. Falkner argues that divergence in substitutes investment between DuPont/Allied (mixed full and partial) and ICI (full only) created productive intra-industry conflict, weakening consensus against HCFC regulation (Falkner 2005). I agree with Falkner on the empirics, but I note that the implications depend on the counterfactual assumed. If the counterfactual is partial substitute investment by all companies, then ICI’s divergence is productive. If, however, the counterfactual is that more companies invest primarily in full substitutes like ICI, then the opposite is true: partial substitutes investment created a long-lasting drag on HCFC phaseout. As Parson documents, HCFC defenders were able to slow the pace of phaseout long after Copenhagen (Parson 2003). HCFCs ultimately phased out only in 2020.

For ozone, this was a subtle distinction with little impact on overall success. But consider the potential for climate investment to diverge between states whose industries invest primarily in renewables (“full substitutes”) and states whose industries invest primarily in natural gas (a “partial substitute”) as a first step. NG infrastructure is costly and long-lived (i.e., extremely sticky) and could produce a significant drag on ratcheting up stringency in later negotiation rounds that would also be long-lived. These investment trajectories are dependent on policy choices—for example, between renewables-forcing policies and weak-to-moderate carbon prices that would encourage NG development.

In sum, without understanding the role of sticky internal changes in industry and their contribution to feedback dynamics, we simply do not fully understand how to succeed in difficult multiround negotiations. Policy makers need to understand that the interests that shape outcomes can change at a fundamental level over time—sometimes serendipitously, and ideally, by design. Therefore a strategic understanding of how the policy outcomes of one negotiating round will shape the material interests at the table in the next round is a critical part of the policy entrepreneur’s tool kit. Further research must do more to elucidate this mechanism and how it could help policy makers predict and shape the interest changes seen across climate and other environmental negotiations.

1. 

Drawing particularly on Sprinz and Vaahtoranta (1994).

2. 

I first presented this mechanism in work done with colleagues for the volume Can Green Sustain Growth? From the Religion to the Reality of Sustainable Prosperity (Kelsey and Zysman 2014).

3. 

Associated Press, September 29, 1988; Financial Post (Toronto, Canada), June 27, 1989; Journal of Commerce, June 28, 1989; October 3, 1989; June 22, 1990; PR Newswire, September 18, 1990. See also Benedick (1998, 165).

4. 

Chemical Week, April 6, 1988; April 26, 1989; October 25, 1989; PR Newswire, November 28, 1989.

5. 

Chemical Week, January 18, 1989; October 31, 1990; Journal of Commerce, October 3, 1989.

6. 

Chemical Week, May 16, 1990.

7. 

Chemical Week, June 27, 1990.

8. 

Chemical Week, January 18, 1989.

9. 

Platt’s Petrochemical Report, November 17, 1988; see also Benedick (1998, 113).

10. 

Platt’s Petrochemical Report, May 11, 1989.

11. 

Guardian (London), February 20, 1992; Chemical Week, August 14, 1991; March 27, 1991.

12. 

Chemical Week, May 27, 1992; August 5, 1992; October 7, 1992; PR Newswire, June 21, 1990; January 21, 1992; September 22, 1992.

13. 

PR Newswire, January 21, 1991.

14. 

Chemical Week, February 16, 1992.

15. 

Business Wire, February 11, 1992.

16. 

Business Wire, March 25, 1992; Chemical Week, September 9, 1992.

17. 

Chemical Week, March 18, 1992; October 21, 1992.

18. 

Guardian (London), July 31, 1991.

19. 

Chemical Week, May 13, 1992.

20. 

Chemical Week, August 14, 1991; November 11, 1992; PR Newswire, April 27, 1993.

21. 

PR Newswire, October 24, 1991.

22. 

Chemical Week, April 15, 1992; November 25, 1992.

23. 

Chemical Week, August 5, 1992.

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Author notes

*

This article draws on work done for my doctoral dissertation. I gratefully acknowledge the advice and encouragement of my committee, John Zysman, Steven Weber, and Michael Hanemann, as well as insightful and constructive feedback from three anonymous reviewers.

Supplementary data