Home Business Richard Benedick, negotiator of the historic ozone treaty, dies at 88

Richard Benedick, negotiator of the historic ozone treaty, dies at 88

by SuperiorInvest

A May 1985 report published in the journal Nature was alarming. High above Antarctica, a huge hole had opened in the ozone layer that protects life on Earth from the sun's ultraviolet rays.

The finding confirmed what scientists had warned since the 1970s: atmospheric ozone was being broken down through the widespread use of chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals known as CFCs, found in aerosols, refrigeration and air conditioning.

Just over two years later, dozens of nations meeting in Montreal signed an agreement to significantly reduce CFCs, which the Environmental Protection Agency estimated would prevent 27 million skin cancer deaths.

“This is perhaps the most historically important international environmental agreement,” Richard E. Benedick, the chief U.S. negotiator, said at the time.

Since then, the Montreal Protocol, as the pact is known, has stood as a milestone of collective action in the face of a planetary environmental threat, as well as a rebuke to the lack of international determination to address the most serious and complex threat of climate change.

Benedick, who was a career diplomat in the State Department when the Montreal Protocol was signed in 1987, and who patiently defeated opposition from foreign nations while resisting powerful domestic critics in the Reagan administration, died March 16 in Falls Church, Virginia. He was 88 years old.

His daughter, Julianna Benedick, said he had advanced dementia and had been living in a memory care home since 2018.

It is no small paradox that a global treaty to address air pollution was negotiated during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who was elected a champion of business and a sworn enemy of government regulation.

But support for addressing the threat of CFCs to human health was possible because environmental issues were less partisan than they would later become, and because American industry, primarily DuPont, the largest manufacturer of those chemicals, preferred a treaty. international to the possibility of more draconian cuts by Congress.

Mr. Benedick outlined the path to achieving the Montreal Protocol in his 1991 book, “Ozone Diplomacy: New Directions for Safeguarding the Planet.”Credit…Harvard University Press

Still, as Benedick wrote in a 1991 book on the path to an agreement, “Ozone Diplomacy: New Directions for Safeguarding the Planet,” success was never assured in the nine months the treaty was drawn up. “Most observers inside and outside the government,” he wrote, “believed at the time that it would be impossible to reach an agreement on international regulation of CFCs.”

Benedick, described by his colleagues as energetic and tenacious, was instrumental in the success. “He was a tenacious guy; he was like a terrier with a bone,” John D. Negroponte, then deputy secretary of state and Benedick’s superior and ally, said in an interview. “The atmosphere in this city was an uphill struggle; “I don’t think it would have happened without him.”

In the Reagan administration, leaders at the State Department and the Environmental Protection Administration favored regulating CFCs. But amid the international talks, strong opposition emerged from Donald P. Hodel, the secretary of the Interior, and William R. Graham Jr., the White House science adviser.

Hodel said Americans concerned about skin cancer due to ozone loss should not wait for more government regulations, but should instead try “personal protection” — hats, sunglasses and sunscreen.

His comments, once leaked to the press, were widely mocked, inspiring editorial cartoons of fish and animals (also at risk of ultraviolet rays) wearing sunglasses. Environmentalists greeted Hodel at a news conference with their faces slathered in sunscreen.

Other opposition came from foreign countries, mainly Japan, the Soviet Union and the European bloc, which argued that the scientific link between CFCs and ozone depletion was not proven.

The State Department sent key scientists from U.S. government science agencies to Moscow, Tokyo and Brussels to educate their counterparts.

“I think it helped get the message across,” Negroponte said. “Dick was the brains behind it.”

In the end, President Reagan sided with Benedick and the State Department, quashing the anti-regulatory faction of his administration. Among the reasons suggested for the decision was that Mr. Reagan had recently had a cancerous tumor removed.

The Montreal Protocol, which called for halving the use of CFCs, was signed by 24 countries in September 1987. It was unanimously ratified the following year by the United States Senate. In 1990, the protocol was tightened to eventually eliminate CFCs completely. Nowadays, almost all countries in the world have banned them.

Concentrations of long-lived ozone-depleting chemicals in the stratosphere have gradually declined, and the ozone hole over Antarctica is expected to recover by the 2060s, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Richard Elliott Benedick was born on May 10, 1935 in the Bronx. His father, Lester L. Benedick, was in the insurance business. Her mother, Rose (Katz) Benedick, died while she was giving birth and, as a result, “she never liked celebrating her birthday,” Mr. Benedick's daughter said.

Lester Benedick remarried Jean (Shamsky) Benedick.

Raised in the Bronx, Richard earned a bachelor's degree in economics from Columbia University, a master's degree in economics from Yale, and a Ph.D. from Harvard Business School and wrote a thesis titled “Industrial Finance in Iran.”

In 1957 he married Hildegard Schulz, whom he met at Yale International House. He accompanied Mr. Benedick, then a foreign service officer specializing in economic development at the State Department, to posts in Iran, Pakistan, France and Germany. The couple divorced in 1982.

Benedick's second marriage, to Helen Freeman, also ended in divorce. He later had a long-time companion, Irene Federwisch. In addition to his daughter, from his first marriage, she is survived by a son, Andreas Benedick, also from that marriage; a granddaughter; and two great-grandchildren.

At the time of the Montreal Protocol, Mr. Benedick was deputy undersecretary of state for environment, health and natural resources and coordinator of population affairs.

“Richard was energetic, even passionate,” said William K. Reilly, who was president of the World Wildlife Fund, where Benedick was a member after negotiating the Montreal Protocol. “It was a milestone in his career for him and for the United States, a masterful diplomatic achievement.”

When he returned to the State Department during the presidency of George HW Bush, Benedick attempted to apply ozone diplomacy to the issue of global warming, which scientists had begun to warn was the most dangerous environmental threat. A government scientist, James Hansen, told the Senate and the press in 1988 that evidence that global warming had begun could be detected “with 99 percent confidence,” which became front-page news.

Reilly, who led the EPA during the Bush administration, said administration policy did not favor action. Secretary of State James A. Baker III “chose to abstain from the climate issue,” Reilly said. Bush's chief of staff, John H. Sununu, vetoed an EPA proposal for the president to propose a global treaty on carbon emissions. When Hansen reappeared before the Senate in 1989, the White House censored his testimony to inject doubt that human activity caused climate change.

Mr. Benedick was not a scientist, but he was a great admirer of nature and the outdoors.

“He loved taking our family to the national parks,” said Mrs. Benedick, his daughter. “He planned five cross-country trips when we were kids in the '70s and '80s. We flew to California and visited virtually every national park as we drove east. “It would make us get up at dawn to see the sunrise over Yosemite, Bryce, Zion or Monument Valley.”

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