Military Experts Enlisted to Dispose of Ozone-Damaging Chemicals

DOHA, Qatar, November 20, 2008 (ENS) - Military experts from the United States, Australia, and the Netherlands will help save the ozone layer and fight global warming under a unique partnership between the United Nations, national governments and the armed services.

Spearheaded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Defense, the new program will make use of technical experts in the military already on the ground.

The initiative was announced to delegates from more than 150 governments who are concluding a five-day meeting in Doha of Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

Marco Gonzalez, executive secretary of the UN Environment Programme's Ozone Secretariat, said, "The military in many countries have been at the forefront of efforts to phase out ozone depleting substances, ODS. Their experience can be invaluable for developing countries facing similar challenges."

More than 90 percent of the chemicals that damage the ozone - the thin, high layer of gas that filters out the Sun's harmful ultra-violet rays - have been phased out since the Montreal Protocol took effect in 1987. But the chemicals are stockpiled in old equipment that will soon come to the end of life.

Delegates at Doha learned that releases from these sources could add to ozone depletion as well as warm the climate because many of these substances are potent greenhouse gases.

Without action to safely remove and destroy these chemicals, experts fear that by 2015 releases equivalent to several billion metric tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide could occur.

The military experts are offering to assist countries in the safe collection of stockpiles and banks of unwanted, ozone-damaging substances. They will give support and advice on shipping, labeling and other procedures needed to fast-track the chemicals to disposal centers around the world.

The partnership could cut the costs of the disposal of ozone-depleting chemicals such as halons, hydrofluorocarbons and chlorofluorocarbons to a third or less of the current market cost. These and other chemicals containing chlorine and bromine were once used as refrigerants, for cleaning circuit boards, in aerosol sprays and to fight fires until they were phased out under the Montreal Protocol.

"The United States is committed to actions under the Montreal Protocol for the benefit of the global climate system and fragile ozone layer," said James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "Experts who responsibly manage military ozone-depleting substances can transfer that know-how throughout the world to recover and destroy a significant portion of unwanted or unusable ozone-depleting substances."

Argentina will be one of the first countries to take advantage of this opportunity to safely dispose of the obsolete chemicals.

"Argentina is proud to be one of the leaders promoting the climate benefits of the Montreal Protocol, and we welcome the opportunity to work with the technical logistics experts from the militaries of the world to continue these efforts to realize benefits for both the climate system and the ozone layer," said Romina Picolotti, secretary of environment for Argentina.

"The Netherlands is proud of our national leadership in combined ODS banking for both industry and the military and pleased to share everything we know that can protect the global environment," said Anton Janssen, who heads the Knowledge Centre for Occupational Safety and Health and Environment within the Netherlands Ministry of Defence.

Many armed forces have existing, competitively priced contracts already in place for destroying ozone-damaging chemicals found as gases and foams in old military air-conditioning units and other kinds of army, navy and air force equipment.

The UNEP Ozone Secretariat will act as coordinator with the Secretariat of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal and other conventions to ensure the transport of unwanted ozone-depleting substances to countries with destruction facilities is correctly permitted.

"It is an honor for military logistics experts to use their considerable talent and experience to help the world protect the stratospheric ozone and climate," said Robert Thien, U.S. Department of Defense ODS Program Manager.

"I am confident that the United States Department of Defense and our partners can provide guidance to developing nations concerning collecting, storing and banking and someday destroying CFCs, HCFCs and other ozone-depleting substances that also threaten climate," said Thien.

"The military's leadership shown by these partners will earn the praise of environmentalists and compliance officials from around the world," said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, and director of the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement, a network of 4,000 environmental authorities in more than 150 countries.

Zaelke said, "Protecting the Earth against climate change is an environmental security campaign that we all support."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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