United Nations Ozone Action Program Wins U.S. Government Prize

WASHINGTON, DC, May 4, 2005 (ENS) - A United Nations program has won the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award for the first time in the 14 year history of the prize.

The award will be presented tonight at a ceremony in Washington to a specialized branch of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) that helps enable governments and industry in developing countries comply with the Montreal Protocol by phasing out substances that deplete the ozone layer.

The OzonAction Branch of UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics based in Paris is the award winning UNEP branch honored by the EPA prize.

Announcing the award, the EPA praised the “leadership and innovation" of the OzonAction Programme and said it has benefited more than 140 countries "through its unique regional networks of National Ozone Units and global information clearinghouse.”

Rajendra Shende, head of the OzonAction branch said, “The award reminds us of what can be achieved when the commitment of the poorest nations to protect the Earth for future generations is combined with the resolve of the richest countries to do their part for peace, prosperity and environmental health."

"What you get are amazing global success stories that go beyond conventional thoughts and immensely benefit humanity,” Shende said.


Head of OzonAction Rajendra Shende at the 15th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in Nairobi, Kenya. November 2003. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
The ozone layer, which absorbs ultraviolet radiation harmful to living organisms and human health, is in danger from several chemicals currently used in industry and agriculture such as refrigerant chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs); fire suppressent halons; the cleaning and degreasing chemicals carbon tetrachloride and methyl chloroform; and the soil fumigant methyl bromide.

Governments establish national ozone units, usually within the environment or other natural resources ministry, to coordinate a plan for phasing out these and other ozone depleting substances. The national ozone units also serve as nodes for communication with the implementing agencies and the Ozone and Multilateral Fund Secretariats.

Recognizing that developing countries require special technical and financial assistance in order to meet their commitments, the Parties to the Montreal Protocol established the Multilateral Fund. UNEP, the UN Development Programme, the UN Industrial Development Organization, and the World Bank are the Fund's implementing agencies. Over 12 years, nearly US$2 billion has been disbursed to 145 developing countries to enable them to comply with the protocol.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP executive director, said, “The appreciation of the award panel highlighting UNEP’s leadership and innovation is not only rewarding but also encouraging for our further work."

“The Montreal Protocol is succeeding in its objective of phasing out the global production and consumption of ozone depleting substances," he said, "but there is still much work left to be done, particularly in developing countries."

The OzonAction branch works closely with developing countries to help them meet their obligations under the protocol and make informed decisions about alternative technologies.

In February, India's Air Force decided to phase out ozone-depleting halons used for fire fighting. The OzonAction Programme staff helped the Air Force to find alternative fire suppression substances where they are available and establish a halon management system where there are no alternatives.

Late last year Armenia's phaseout plan took effect, and the OzonAction Programme assembled a Contact Group "Armenia-Georgia-Kyrgyzstan-UNEP-UNDP" which gathered in Yerevan to help Armenia prepare for the challenges ahead. Funded by the Global Environment Facility, Armenia will now establish a national ozone unit and launch the approved projects while complying with control measures for ozone-depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol.

The OzonAction Information Clearinghouse service provides technical, policy and scientific information on a wide range of phaseout issues including:

Handheld fire extinguishers containing halocarbon streaming agents that can replace ozone-depleting halon are now commercially available. But there are concerns about the effects of halon replacements and their toxic by-products on human health. (Photo courtesy National Research Council Canada)
In declaring this award, the EPA said OzonAction's "innovative mechanisms" like the first business-to-business web portal to trade banked halons, and leveraging the expertise of nongovernmental organizations to raise public awareness have enabled "cost-effective elimination" of ozone depleters.

In addition, OzonAction has established the only international program to educate and support customs officers and border police to prevent illegal trade in ozone-depleting substances.

“The treaty is bearing fruits,” said Shende. “According to the best scientific knowledge the chemicals that have been destroying the ozone layer are now at or near peak, and could begin to dissipate slowly - if nations stay the course.”

Participation in the effort is almost universal with 189 countries having ratified the Montreal Protocol, and the treaty is being recognized as a rare multilateral success story. In his recent report entitled, “In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All,” UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, described the Montreal Protocol as an “encouraging example showing how global solutions can be found.”

"A key factor in the success to date has been financial resources provided to help implement the protocol," said Toepfer. "In this regard, it is important that one of the key mechanisms underpinning the treaty, the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), is adequately replenished this year. This will help ensure that we finish the job, not only for ozone, but also for other global environmental treaties," he said

In 1990, EPA established the Stratospheric Ozone Protection Awards to recognize exceptional leadership, personal dedication, and technical achievements in protecting the Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer. In the first 14 years, The Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award has been presented to 477 individuals, organizations and teams from 40 countries.

The award will be presented tonight at the Hotel Washington in conjunction with the EPA Climate Protection Awards, given to corporations, governments and individuals to recognize exceptional leadership, personal dedication, and technical achievements in protecting the Earth's climate.