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(GLASGOW) Montreal Protocol Report As #COP26 begins its second week without much sign of progress, despair is in the air, this protocol was an ozone layer success story #AceNewsDesk report

#AceNewsReport – Nov.10: But before you give up all hope, there is a shining example of when one of these global talkfests actually succeeded — the Montreal Protocol to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer: Despite a few wobbles along the way, the protocol has protected us from harmful UV rays, while also helping to reduce global warming on the side……

#AceDailyNews #ClimateChange & #GlobalWarming Report: The Montreal Protocol — an ozone layer success story to remember amid the gloom of #COP26 so could Australia become a renewable superpower by 2030?

A colourful circular drawing against a dark backdrop.
With COP26 entering its second week, the filling of the ozone hole is a positive reminder that progress is being made.(ABC Weather: Kate Doyle)

This is the story of how it can be done……….

The Pac-Man model

For all who have witnessed the drawn-out saga that is global action on climate change, the path between realising there was a problem with ozone and dealing with it seems astoundingly short.

The first breakthrough came in 1974, when US chemists Mario Molina and Sherry Rowland reported that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), then widely used in refrigerators, spray cans and insulation, were accumulating in the atmosphere.

It had been shown previously by researchers Richard Stolarski and Ralph Cicerone that chlorine could catalytically deplete ozone but the big link to the manmade CFCs is credited to Molina and Rowland.

“That was really, really a huge paper in the community,” says Paul Neuman, who joined the team as a young scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in the early 1980s and now serves as one of four co-chairs of the scientific assessment panel to the Montreal Protocol.

A line drawing of a man against a dark background with Pac-Man characters zooming around in it.
Paul Newman is a chief scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute.(ABC Weather: Kate Doyle)

“Maybe I’m dating myself, but we used to call it the Pac-Man model of eating ozone — you know, a little Pac-Man running around eating the little cookies and cherries.”

A CFC in the atmosphere breaks down and releases a chlorine atom.

The chlorine atom then attacks nearby ozone molecules, before again breaking free and attacking more ozone molecules, over and over again.

A Pac-Man-themed graphic showing chemical reactions between gas molecules.
The free chlorine (Cl) atom, from the break down of the CFC, attacks the ozone molecule (O3) forming a dioxygen (02) and a chlorine monoxide (ClO). The ClO then reacts with single oxygen (O) atoms, resulting in more dioxygen and again freeing the chlorine to go and attack more ozone.(ABC Weather: Kate Doyle)

Scientists quickly realised this could be a problem. The ozone layer screens the surface from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can damage biologically active molecules by harming plants’ photosynthetic process, as well as the instantly relatable risk of skin cancers.

But in the late ’70s and early ’80s, scientists weren’t exactly sure where, or if, the CFCs being produced at the surface were making their way up to damage the ozone layer.

Finding the hole

In 1982, Jonathan Shanklin managed to convince his bosses at the British Antarctic Survey to let him go to Antarctica.

The idea was to check strangely low readings from the old Dobson spectrometer, the device that measures atmospheric ozone, against a new machine.

After his return was delayed by the Falklands War, Jonathan started going through the new machine’s data, only to find it matched the old.

On humble graph paper, he showed that ozone levels over Antarctica had been declining since the 1970s.

A hand-drawn chart showing a downward trend.
Jonathan Shanklin’s chart showing declining ozone levels over Antarctica.(Supplied: Jonathan Shanklin)

After much double checking, he and his colleagues Joseph Farman and Brian Gardiner published the results in the scientific journal Nature in 1985.

“That got into the press and rather shocked the world,” he said.

The main theory at the time was that if ozone depletion was actually taking place, it was most likely to be at high altitude over the tropics.

“Finding something going on around Antarctica at what turned out to be low altitude was a complete upheaval of the prevailing theory of the day,” he said.

How NASA, with all their satellites, could possibly have missed a giant hole in the atmosphere was an obvious follow-up question.

Mr Shanklin said he had actually written to NASA at the time, asking if the findings were lining up with what they were seeing.

“Fortunately, they didn’t follow it up, because if they had they would have made the discovery rather than ourselves,” he said.

A line drawing of a bespectacled man in front of a dark background streaked with bands of colour.
Jonathan Shanklin’s suspicions about Antarctic ozone levels were aroused when readings started going off the chart.(ABC Weather: Kate Doyle)

“It just shows you some of the luck in science, that one small event would have changed, in many aspects, the course of history, at least for me and the British team.”

Paul Newman was at NASA Goddard at the time.

“You know it’s kind of become an urban legend that NASA dropped the ball and it’s simply false,” he said. 

“We knew there were low values over Antarctica — we didn’t actually understand why.”

They also thought there could have been problems with their instruments.

“No good scientist sees a low value and immediately tries to publish it,” he said.

“Usually, when you find a low value in your data, you go, ‘What did I do wrong?’ or ‘Why is my instrument broken?’

“That’s what good scientists do — they go out and try to figure it out.”Can we untangle the climate mess?

Part of the NASA team had planned to present similar findings at a conference later in 1985, but not before Dr Shanklin and his colleagues had published their findings, making them the official hole finders.

It was NASA’s maps that made it easy for the world to picture what was going on.

Who exactly came up with the term “ozone hole” is unknown but Dr Shanklin credits the term with making the concept so easy for people to understand.

“It was an inspired choice of words,” he said.

In part, that’s because it’s a very graphic description of what’s going on, but also because holes need to be filled in or patched up.

“I think that was one reason why it became so much easier for world leaders to sign up to the Montreal Protocol, because there was a clear-cut image,” Dr Shanklin said.

“We need to get out of the hole, we need to fill it in.”

Drawing of spray can.
Before the Montreal Protocol CFCs were commonly found in spray cans, air conditioners and fridges.(ABC Weather: Kate Doyle)

Governments quick to act

Despite continued question marks over how and if CFCs could be responsible for the hole, the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer was held in 1985, with countries agreeing to further look into ozone depletion.

Just two years later, the Montreal Protocol to the Vienna Convention was signed.

This time countries committed to phasing out CFCs, with developed countries committing funds to help developing countries achieve these goals.

For Dr Newman it was an exciting, dynamic time.

“I’ve got to say, at the time, I was really, really caught up in all of it,” he said.

“It was a lot of fun, although kind of scary.”

On the same day the Montreal Protocol was signed, NASA was still flying planes across Antarctica to be sure that CFCs really were the culprit.

“I was actually faxing plots of the Antarctic ozone hole down to people in the tip of South America who were flying over Antarctica and into the ozone hole,” Dr Newman said.

The data didn’t become available until a few months later.

“It showed that the ozone hole was absolutely due to chlorine, from chlorofluorocarbons, and other ozone-depleting substances,” he said.

“The Montreal Protocol was signed by countries, sort of as an insurance policy. Hey, maybe it’s not due to chlorofluorocarbons, but maybe it is. Maybe we should have an agreement in place just in case it is.

 “It was a marvellous achievement, to get countries to come to some sort of conclusion.”

A drawing of a large group of people.
Dr Newman said the Montreal Protocol’s culture was highly collaborative.(ABC Weather: Kate Doyle)

Global climate success story

A recent review of the effectiveness of the Montreal Protocol found there would have been a 20 per cent increase in the ultraviolet radiation hitting mid-latitude regions like southern Australia by now.

By 2100, they calculate the amount of ultraviolet radiation reaching the mid-latitudes would have quadrupled.

“In terms of the health benefits … up to two million cases of skin cancer may be prevented each year by 2030,” said Tina Birmpili, deputy executive secretary of the Desertification Convention at the United Nations and previously executive secretary of the Ozone Secretariat.

Not only does the Montreal Protocol help the ozone hole, but it also helps mitigate global warming because CFCs also act as a greenhouse gas.

To further reduce warming, the protocol has been amended to also phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which were brought in to replace CFCs but act as greenhouse gases.

In an amendment to the protocol, in 2016, Kigali, Rwanda, the parties agreed to include a list of 19 HFCs as controlled substances to be phased down.

“Phasing down HFCs may avoid up to 0.4 degrees Celsius of temperature increase by the end of the century,” Ms Birmpili said.

A graph showing the ozone hole area compared to average.
Both this and last year’s Antarctic ozone holes have been long-lasting but their peak was still well below the big years of the past.(Supplied: NASA Ozone Watch)

Above average ozone hole this year

Word went around earlier this year of an above average ozone hole.

“I know there have been a couple of press releases out there, but this is not an unusual ozone hole,” Dr Newman said.

While it may be bigger than recent holes, he said it was well within expectations of year-to-year variability.

“I have to admit, I’ve talked to a few journalists about this and I’m kind of upset about some of these press releases that have gone out,” Dr Newman said.

“Because I think they don’t put enough information in there to provide context to why those levels were bigger this year.”

As Dr Shanklin explains, weather can be variable up in the stratosphere where the ozone is, just like it can be on the ground.

If there are stable, cold conditions during the Antarctic winter, as there have been over the past two years, this allows widespread formation of the polar stratospheric clouds and consequent high rates of ozone depletion in spring.

“But it’s worth noting that, although ozone-depletion levels are higher than they have been on average over the last decade, they’re nowhere near the maximum,” Dr Shanklin said.

Two years do not make a trend. With CFCs hanging around in the atmosphere for many years after their release, the battle to protect the ozone is a marathon, not a sprint.

Dr Shanklin maintains we are on the right tack.

“There’s no doubt whatsoever that the Montreal Protocol is working, the amount of those … destroying chemicals in the atmosphere is going down,” he said.

Drawings of scientific papers.
Scientists are constantly monitoring CFC levels. Back in the 2010s rogue emissions were eventually tracked back to eastern China.(ABC Weather: Kate Doyle)

Can we do it again?

According to Julie Arblaster, ozone researcher at Monash University, part of what made the Montreal Protocol successful was that we were quick to act.

“Governments and industry were really onboard and made changes straight away,” she said.

It also helped that there were alternative substances available.

“I think that was a big difference. It’s a lot harder to think of, or to find, those easy substitutes for fossil fuels,” she said.

“Climate change is a bigger problem, it’s a more difficult problem — our whole way of life and society and energy is dependent on fossil fuels at this stage.”

A line drawing of a long-haired woman in font of a dark background.
Julie Arblaster’s main focus is how ozone affects the weather in Australia.(ABC Weather: Kate Doyle)

But she says we can act.

“We’ve seen in the pandemic that governments can act quickly too.”

She is optimistic, especially for Australia.

“I think we have a lot of scope for renewable energy, a lot of industry that could pivot to a green economy and I think if we’re willing, we can make some big changes.”

For Ms Birmpili, it is true that the challenges countries are facing to address climate change are bigger and wider in scope than the ones that countries faced and are still facing to protect the ozone layer.

“However, the challenge of eliminating CFCs and HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) was not an easy one,” she said.

“They were quite pervasive in homes and workplaces, in military bases, in aeroplanes and ships, in food and energy systems.

“The Montreal Protocol started modestly, and it moved quickly in the following years.

“The parties learned by doing, became more confident and increased their ambition gradually.”

Dr Newman still finds it incredible every country in the world, including Andorra and the Vatican, have signed on to the Montreal Protocol.

“It’s quite the amazing achievement,” he said.

“The idea that all the countries in the world can’t get together on a topic, it’s not correct.”

But he thinks there is a culture around the Montreal Protocol that would be hard to replicate.

“There’s not the amount of contention and theatre that you see in at COP meetings,” Dr Newman said.

While there was opposition to basic information when the Montreal Protocol was debated, he said there was not as much as you see today.

“There were a lot of ozone-depletion sceptics, there still are. They are an impediment to progress.

“But in general, that was beaten back and they were not particularly well funded.”

Despite these challenges, Dr Newman’s experience with the Montreal Protocol makes him an optimist.

“I’m a little more confident in the future than a lot of other people,” he said.

“I’ve seen these solutions happen. I’ve actually become kind of an optimist.

“I realise they are big challenges. But sooner or later, I think things will be solved.”

A drawing of a person with a large balloon above them.
Dr Shanklin is retired but he still dabbles with the data as an Emeritus Fellow at the British Antarctic Survey.(ABC Weather: Kate Doyle)

For Dr Shanklin it is amazing that what he thought of as a minor discovery at the time has had such world-shaking impact.

“It’s humbling to see that virtually everybody has heard of the Antarctic ozone hole,” he said.

Dr Shanklin remained with the British Antarctic Survey until his official retirement in 2012, having completed 20 trips to Antarctica.

For him, the key lesson to take from the ozone hole story is the importance of environmental monitoring.

“It may not be glamorous but every now and again it produces results that are fundamental to us,” Dr Shanklin said.

“And when the scientists send a warning, the politicians need to listen.”

#AceNewsDesk report ……….Published: Nov.10: 2021:

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