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Setting a good example: Australia and the ozone layer

Australia had a special interest in fixing the ozone hole. Jon Tunley

SAVING THE OZONE: The final part our series exploring the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer – dubbed “the world’s most successful environmental agreement” – looks at Australians who’ve helped protect the atmosphere.

Australia has always been at the forefront of efforts to protect the ozone layer.

There are good reasons for our involvement. Protecting the stratospheric ozone layer is particularly important because of our sunny climate and outdoor lifestyle. Ozone depletion - because it allows more of the dangerous UV to reach the earth’s surface - can have a direct effect on the health of Australians and on our environment. The Australian contribution to this environmental effort is also notable because it came from business, government, environment and conservation groups and the general community. It’s a good model for future environmental activity.

With the discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica in 1985, Australians felt exposed and vulnerable to ozone layer depletion. We suddenly became more attuned to the environmental impact of global activities. There was also a growing realisation that Australia was one of the world’s largest per capita users of CFCs and halon.

These factors combined to drive Australia’s subsequent coordinated national action and international leadership on ozone protection. Scientific institutions and technical organisations and industry collaborated to phase-out the use of ozone-depleting substances in Australia. This shared commitment has been pivotal in Australia’s success in meeting its obligations under the Montreal Protocol.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol, on 13 September 2012, the Australian Government presented certificates to seven Australians who have made outstanding contributions to the phase-out of ozone depleting substances. See more at Andrew Tatnell

It hasn’t been just local recognition of leadership, expertise and high levels of commitment to ozone layer protection. Many Australian institutions and individuals have been recognised by the United Nations Environment Programme and the US Environmental Protection Agency for their contribution to protection of the ozone layer. We can be very proud of recognition like the following.

  • In 2008 the Australian Government was acclaimed for reducing the use in the Asia-Pacific region of methyl bromide – an ozone depleting substance widely used in agricultural and quarantine fumigation.

  • The Australian Government received recognition for helping developing countries phase out ozone depleting substances, and for establishing the National Halon Bank to collect, reclaim and reuse (and where necessary, destroy) halon for fire-suppression uses in Australia. This bank still operates today and plays an important role in providing halon for essential uses in shipping and aviation.

  • The Victorian Government received an award in 2007 when its Methyl Bromide Research Scheme evaluated alternatives to methyl bromide and supported Australia’s efforts to phase out methyl bromide.

  • Together with Strawberries Australia and AUSVEG, the Victorian Government received an ozone protection award for phasing out methyl bromide use in Australian soils.

  • The Halon Essential Uses Panel, initially established by the Victorian EPA, was recognised in 1992 for limiting the sale of halon in Australia to essential uses only.

Australia has done some great work reducing halon use. boviate/Flickr

Australian scientists have been honoured for their contributions to ozone protection through their work on the Montreal Protocol’s scientific and technical advisory bodies, the Scientific Assessment Panel and the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel:

  • Dr Paul Fraser from the CSIRO, for his monitoring of ozone-depleting substances in the Southern Hemisphere and archival of air samples for use by research organisations around the world.

  • Dr Jonathan Banks, formerly of CSIRO, for his work on developing and promoting alternatives to methyl bromide.

  • Dr Ian Porter, from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, also for his work on methyl bromide alternatives.

  • Dr Helen Tope, formerly from the Victorian EPA, for her work on alternatives to CFCs in metered dose inhalers.

  • Dr Ian Rae for helping countries use alternatives to ozone depleting substances for industrial and laboratory uses.

Non-government organisations have also received international recognition:

  • Nordiko Quarantine Systems, for developing a process to recapture methyl bromide used for fumigation in shipping containers and ensure its safe disposal.

  • Refrigerant Reclaim Australia, an industry-funded environmental trust established to recover, reclaim and destroy ozone depleting substances and their substitutes, for its innovative approach to product stewardship.

  • the Australian Cancer Council in 2007 for its pioneering “slip, slop, slap” campaign, which focused public attention on the dangers of high exposure to UV radiation and the need to protect the ozone layer.

  • the then Association of Fluorocarbon Consumers and Manufacturers of Australia for their early support of phasing out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in Australia.

  • Woolworths for its pioneering work in phasing out the use of CFCs in their refrigeration systems and in promoting alternatives.

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol, it is fitting that we reflect on the fact that Australia’s success at phasing out its use of ozone-depleting substances is not the result of one government agency or one individual. Rather, it is the result of many dedicated individuals from a wide range of government, industry and scientific and technical organisations using their expertise to work together for a common purpose.

This article was co-authored by Annie Gabriel, who works for the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities on ozone protection policy. She has a BA from the ANU and a Graduate Certificate in Public Policy from Flinders University.

Read more on the Montreal Protocol’s 25th anniversary.

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