Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development

IGSD and collaborators recognized for ozone layer protection at New York Climate Week

September 18, 2023

18 September 2023 — During New York Climate Week, Virgin Group Founder and Executive Richard Branson and partners launched the “Planetary Guardians” initiative to use new science to persuade environmental authorities to make life on Earth sustainable and equitable for humans and other species.

New science pioneered by Johan Rockström (Rockström et al. 2009), Will Steffen (Steffen et al. 2015), Katherine Richardson (Richardson et al. 2023), and others defines “planetary boundaries” for nine processes the authors consider critical for maintaining Earth system stability and resilience. The framework delineates and quantifies the safe operating conditions that would continue global environmental functions and life-support systems similar to those experienced over the past ~10,000 years of the Holocene Epoch.

The premise of Planetary Guardians is that most of the defined Planetary Boundaries have already exceeded the “safe and just” Earth system boundaries, with more approaching those thresholds. The good news story is that when it was confirmed in the 1980s that stratospheric ozone depletion exceeded the safe Earth system boundary, public, corporate, and governmental organizations acted quickly to phase out ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) with the ozone layer expected to recover to a natural level so long as climate is simultaneously protected. Because most ODSs are also powerful greenhouse gases (GHGs) the phase-out also avoided a doubling of the atmospheric impact of carbon dioxide, which would have ended much of life on Earth.

Thus, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (Montreal Protocol) is proof that humans CAN organize to protect the global commons against exceeding planetary boundaries and is a case study of how governments and industry can work together with the United Nations to accomplish environmental miracles. One of many distinguishing features of the 7 Award winners are their deep connections, as documented in Jean Oelwang’s 2022 book Partnering: Forge the Deep Connections that Make Great Things Happen.

The Ozone Awards were introduced by Richard Branson, put in context by climate activist Ayisha Siddiqa, and delivered with elaboration by ocean scientist, explorer, and environmental activist Dr. Sylvia A. Earle at a gala event in New York City during Climate Week.

Richard Branson (Time 2023) explained:

“The Montreal Protocol—a triumph of collaboration between science, governments, multilaterals, and business—transformed entire industries, invested in science to track and understand the problem, and phased out 99% of ozone-depleting substances. Scientists now predict the ozone layer will largely be restored by 2060.”

“If there’s but one lesson to glean from the ozone example, it’s this: changing course isn’t a solo endeavor. It requires constant vigilance and radical collaboration.”

Stratospheric Ozone Champions received the Planetary Guardians Ozone Award

  • Professor F. Sherwood (“Sherry”) Rowland (1927-2012), who with Mario J. Molina discovered in 1974 that fluorocarbons migrate to the stratosphere and deplete ozone that shields Earth against damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation and subsequently campaigned successfully for phase out of production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) worldwide. Sherry was recognized with Professors Paul J. Crutzen and Mario J. Molina for saving life on Earth when they received the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He was represented at the Planetary Guardians Ozone Award ceremony by Dr. Donald Blake, one of his last graduate students and later colleague at University of California (UC) Irving.
  • Professor Mario J. Molina, who with Professor F. Sherwood Rowland warned of stratospheric ozone depletion and subsequently campaigned to phase out ODSs under the Montreal Protocol. In 1975 Mario was appointed to the faculty at UC Irving and continued to collaborate with Sherry on their CFC Ozone Depletion Theory and began new independent work to investigate chemical and spectroscopic properties of compounds of atmospheric importance. After seven years at Irvine as Assistant and then Associate Professor, Mario joined the Molecular Physics and Chemistry Section at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) where he continued breakthrough science, including laboratory simulation with chlorine peroxide of the chemical effects of clouds over Antarctica, which turned out to be important in providing the explanation for the rapid loss of ozone in the polar stratosphere. Mario was recognized for saving life on earth with Professors Paul J. Crutzen and F. Sherwood Rowland when they received the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He was represented at the Planetary Guardians Ozone Award ceremony by Guadalupe Alvarez Limon, his wife.
  • Jonathan Shanklin, who with Joseph Farman and Brian G. Gardiner in 1985 warned of the ozone hole above Antarctica and implied that it must be caused by fluorocarbons.
  • Marco Gonzalez, Executive Director of the Montreal Protocol Ozone Secretariat from 2002-2013, who secured universal ratification and the 2007 HCFC Adjustment that made the Montreal Protocol a Climate Treaty.
  • Helen Tope, Member of the Montreal Protocol Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP) from 1995-present, who for over 30 years masterfully guided the phase-out of medical, aerosol, and chemical uses of ODSs and now the phase down of hydrofluorocarbon chemicals that are greenhouse gases.
  • Suely Carvalho, Co-Chair of the TEAP from 1993-2001, Director of the Montreal Protocol and Chemicals Unit at United Nations Development Program (UNDP) from 2001-2013 where she coordinated implementation of ODS technology conversion and technical assistance projects in over 100 developing countries. Suely has held numerous other senior positions protecting ozone and climate over more than 35 years.
  • Stephen O. Andersen, Co-author of a 1974 assessment of the impact of ozone depletion and climate change on northern latitude grain yields, founder of TEAP and Co-Chair from 1989-2012, Deputy Director of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) Stratospheric Protection Division, and Liasson to the US Department of Defense on Stratospheric Ozone and Climate. Stephen created the first EPA voluntary partnerships as well as helping organize and manage the USEPA Stratospheric Ozone and Climate Protection Awards.

Who are the “Planetary Guardians”?

The official Planetary Guardians as agreed at the launch include Xiye Bastida, Ralph Chami, Sylvia Earle, Farwiza Farhan, Jane Goodall, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Naoko Ishii, Sunita Narain, Robert Redford, Mary Robinson, Juan Manuel Santos, Ayisha Siddiqa, and David Suzuki.

The “Planetary Guardians” a new collective of world leaders, climate activists, business executives, and celebrities drawn together by Richard Branson and the Virgin Unite Foundation. The Planetary Guardians plan to motivate the United Nations and national governments to safeguard Earth.

For more details:

Left to Right: Dr. Donald Blake (colleague from UC Irving accepting for Sherry Rowland), Guadalupe Alvarez Limon (wife of Mario Molina accepting on his behalf), Dr. Stephen O. Andersen, Richard Branson, Marco Gonzalez, Dr. Johan Rockström, Jean Oelwang, and Dr. Suely Carvalho