Canada’s Harper Government Guts Environment, Science and Monitoring Programs

Man w picture of grandchild was arrested for protesting against tar sands expansion, Sept 2011 Ottawa, Canada - Pix by R Leahy

Environment budget slashed while PM Harper’s office places a gag order on government scientists. (And a $60 billion order for military equipment)

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 9, 2011 (IPS)

Canada’s Stephen Harper government is spending more than 60 billion dollars on new military jets and warships while slashing more than 200 million dollars in funding for research and monitoring of the environment.

Amongst the programmes now crippled is Canada’s internationally renowned ozone monitoring network, which was instrumental in the discovery of the first-ever ozone hole over Canada last spring. Loss of ozone has been previously linked to increases in skin cancer.

“The proposed cuts go so far the network won’t be able to do serious science,” said Thomas Duck, an atmospheric scientist at Halifax’s Dalhousie University.

Canada was the pioneer in ozone monitoring, developing the first accurate ozone measuring tool that led to the discovery that the world’s ozone layer was dangerously thinning in the 1970s, which in turn led to the successful Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances.

Canada has about one-third of the ozone monitoring stations in the Arctic region. It also hosts the world archive of ozone data, which is heavily relied on by scientists around the world.

“There’s only one guy running the entire archive, and he’s received a lay-off notice letter,” Duck told IPS.

Ozone monitoring and research is part of Environment Canada, the government department charged with protecting the environment, conservation and providing weather and meteorological information.

“Canada can’t afford to pay scientists but we can line the pockets of big oil?

That is totally backwards.”

Continue reading

Ozone Treaty May Hold Key to Halting Climate Change

moonlit cactus - peruBy Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Aug 25 (IPS)

Will the world take the easy step to phase out “super” greenhouse gases – hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – using the existing Montreal Protocol ozone treaty?

Doing so would be equivalent to preventing the release of 118 to 224 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050, according to a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency.

That’s vitally important.

The latest science shows humanity cannot put more than another 700 billion tonnes into the atmosphere over the next 40 years without risking dangerous climate change. At current rates of carbon emissions, that limit will be exceeded in half that time.

“An HFC phase-down under the Montreal Protocol will do far more for climate protection than the Kyoto Protocol has accomplished in its entire history or than Copenhagen will achieve in the next decade,” said Samuel LaBudde, senior U.S. climate campaigner for the non-profit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

“And it will do so at a fraction of the cost of securing reductions in other sectors and much faster as well,” LaBudde told IPS.

The leaders of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico committed to “work together under the Montreal Protocol to phase down the use of HFCs” earlier this month at the North American Summit in Guadalajara, Mexico. This follows a similar commitment made by G8 leaders in July.

Primarily used in refrigerators and air conditioners, HFCs are the standard replacement chemicals for those that were thinning the protective ozone layer in the upper atmosphere. Although HFCs pose no ozone risks, they typically have a global warming potential hundreds or even many thousands of times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2), hence the “super greenhouse gas” label.

The number of the world’s estimated 1.5 -1.8 billion refrigerators, 1.1 billion home and 400 million mobile (auto) air conditioners is expected to grow dramatically as developing nations like China and India modernise and increase use of HFCs.

A July study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that such a skyrocketing use of HFCs will have a significant impact on the climate at projected growth rates by 2050, negating much of future efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

“Phasing down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol is a brilliant strategy,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, an international environmental NGO.

“This is the treaty that never fails to deliver. It’s already phased out 96 chemicals by 97 percent, and it’s ready to tackle these super greenhouse gases,” Zaelke said in a release.

Two small island nations, the Federated States of Micronesia and Mauritius, were the first to campaign to amend the Montreal Protocol to tackle HFCs at a July meeting of signatories. Ironically, under the Protocol, richer countries provide financing to poor countries to replace ozone-destroying refrigerants with HFCs.

Many country delegates felt it is the responsibility of the Montreal Protocol to prevent the further commercialisation and prolific use of HFCs even though it is not an ozone-depleting chemical.

“The support of North American leaders is appreciated,” said Ambassador Yosiwo George from the Federated States of Micronesia. The tiny Pacific island nation is threatened by rising sea levels from global warming and is advocating for a 90 percent HFC phase out by 2030.

For full story see here

Monster Ozone Hole (Again) – But your skin would fry in 3 mins without 20-yr old Ozone Treaty

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada , Sep 16 (IPS) – In hard economic times, protecting the environment is often seen as a luxury — or ignored completely. But had that attitude prevailed 20 years ago when it came to taking action to protect the ozone layer, skin cancer rates would have soared and climate change would be even more dramatic than it is today.

[Update April 09: NASA study now shows that without action UV radiation would have increased 650 per cent in mid-latitudes ie Washington DC. OUCH! fried skin in 5 mins or less.

“We forget that things could have been far worse without international action in the form of the Montreal Protocol,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Tuesday as part of the annual World Ozone Day celebration.

And things are bad enough.

A massive ozone hole over Antarctica is making its annual appearance at a near record-sized 27 million square kilometres as measured by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Sep. 13. This is the 25th “anniversary of the hole” and it likely has another 50 to 60 years of life left. Continue reading

Skin Cancer Rising Despite New Ozone Deal to Cut CO2 Emissions

Ozone Deal to Cut Down CO2 Emissions

By Stephen Leahy

MONTREAL, Sep 23’07 (IPS) – More than 190 nations agreed this week to combat global warming and accelerate the healing of the ozone layer, although critics say more could have been accomplished.

The sun shone bright and warm here on Friday, the final day of the 19th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer. Outside, caravans of pre-school children in strollers or holding hands as they walked sported hats and long-sleeved shirts to protect their delicate skin.

It can be easy to forget that the sun was not always so dangerous, and that modern society is responsible for putting chemicals into the atmosphere that continue to destroy the ozone layer that protects all life from harmful levels of solar ultraviolet radiation.

[UPDATE: Sept 2009 — Ozone Treaty May Hold Key to Halting Climate Change;

— Ozone Hole 2009 – Bigger than North America – 24 million sq km]]

And we forget that things could have been far worse without international action in the form of the Montreal Protocol, which opened for signature 20 years ago this week.

Sadly, that action came late and was not vigorous enough for millions of people who have or will get skin cancer. Continue reading

The Real Cost of US Strawberries

The Chemical That Must Not Be Named
By Stephen Leahy

MONTREAL, Canada, Sep 20 (IPS) – Delegates from 191 nations are on the verge of an agreement under the Montreal Protocol for faster elimination of ozone-depleting chemicals, but the United States insists it must continue to use the banned pesticide methyl bromide.

Even as another enormous ozone hole forms over the Antarctic this week, the rest of the world appears to be giving in to U.S. demands despite the fact that the use of methyl bromide in developed countries was supposed to have been completely phased out by Jan. 1, 2005 under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

“It’s a black mark on this meeting. It is the chemical that must not be named,” said David Doniger, climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defence Council, a U.S. environmental group.

“There is a powerful lobby group of strawberry and vegetable growers in Washington,” Doniger told IPS.

Methyl bromide is a highly toxic fumigant pesticide which is injected into soil to sterilise it before planting crops. It is also used as a post-harvest decontaminant of products and storage areas. Although it is highly effective in eradicating pests such as nematodes, weeds, insects and rodents, it depletes the ozone layer and poses a danger to human health.

While alternatives exist for more than 93 percent of the applications of methyl bromide, some countries such as the U.S., Japan and Israel claimed that because of regulatory restrictions, availability, cost and local conditions, they had little choice but to continue its use as a pest control. And so despite the ban, the Montreal Protocol allows “critical use exemptions” for countries to continue to use banned substances for a short period of time until they can find a substitute.

In 2006, the United States received an exemption to use 8,000 tonnes of methyl bromide, compared to 5,000 tonnes for the rest of the developed world combined. Continue reading

Ozone Hole is Back and Bigger Than Ever

ozone-hole-sept-16-2007-sml.jpgThe World Meteorological Organization is reporting this week that the hole is back and bigger than ever. And it could grow larger in as spring returns to the region. In the past two years ozone holes larger than Europe have opened over the Antarctic and Southern Ocean.

The hole and the entire ozone layer and life on Earth would be in far worse shape if not for the The Montreal Protocol.

See also my stories on ozone and Montreal Protocol:

Ozone Treaty Best Bet to Slow Climate Change

From 2006:

Skin Cancer and the Record-breaking Antarctic Ozone Hole
60 Years to Restore the Ozone Layer Over Antarctica