UN honours Greenpeace for protecting the ozone layer

Feature story - October 10, 2007
The vital role that Greenpeace has played in protecting the ozone layer was recognized by United Nations Environmental Programme on the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty to reduce the use of chemicals that deplete the ozone layer of the atmosphere.

Greenpeace protests outside Environment Canada headquarters in Hull, Quebec, 1990.

"I am extremely proud of the part Greenpeace has played over the last three decades in the fight to save the ozone layer," said Bruce Cox, executive director of Greenpeace Canada who was in Montreal in September to accept the award on behalf of Greenpeace International. "I was truly moved by the level of respect and gratitude that Greenpeace had earned from delegates for the all the work we have done."

Much of that work was undertaken by former Greenpeace Canada campaigner, Janos Mate, currently with Greenpeace International, who has been representing Greenpeace at the Montreal Protocol meetings since 1992, and who received a personal award for his own valuable contribution.  He described the Montreal Protocol as "living proof of the importance and effectiveness of international treaties in dealing with global environmental problems."

The Montreal Protocol was established in 1987 after scientists discovered that chemicals used in aerosols, refrigeration and fire retardants were punching a hole in the ozone layer, leaving a huge gap over the Arctic and Antarctic. These same chemicals are also potent greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global warming.

Perhaps Greenpeace's most valuable contribution to the campaign to protect the ozone layer is the innovative technology it has developed that is free of fluorocarbons, including the Greenfreeze refrigerator, of which there are now 100 million worldwide. Greenpeace also helped establish the Refrigerants, Naturally Initiative, which today involves six major multinational corporations, including Coca Cola and McDonalds, which have committed to phasing out their use of ozone depleting chemicals in their extensive fleet of cooling equipment.

Greenpeace along with the UN initiated the SolarChill project, the aim of which is to provide developing countries with environmentally sustainable, solar powered refrigerators for storing vaccines.

Greenpeace applauds the Montreal Protocol for its huge success in significantly reducing the amount of ozone depleting substances released into the atmosphere. By coming to an agreement to phase out these man-made chemicals, it serves as an example of what can be achieved with the collective effort of the governments, scientists, NGOs and industry to advert an environmental disaster.

"This level of successful international cooperation in response to an environmental crisis is unprecedented, but so is the danger that the depletion of the ozone layer brought to the future of all life on the planet," said David Kanter, a young Greenpeace intern whose generation, as Janos pointed out, will bear the impacts of ozone destruction. From  Greenpeace's position paper that David presented, however, he cited words of caution. "The key lesson the ozone crisis saga teaches us is that once human activity tips nature off balance, it takes many decades to undo the damage, and there is a high probability that such damage will never be repaired."

While the ozone layer over Antarctica this year was 30 per cent small than in 2006, the hole last year was a record size covering 28 million square kilometers. Greenpeace, which puts much of the blame for the damage to the atmosphere on chemical companies that place profits above the interests of the environment, continues to call for the elimination of all ozone destroying chemicals, especially those which are potent greenhouse gases.

Some strides were made in this direction when the 191 signatories to the Montreal Protocol last met and decided to phase out these damaging chemicals 10 years earlier than originally scheduled, requiring developed countries to eliminate them altogether by 2020.