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Ozone protection was the result of professional confidence and sacrifice; brilliant interdisciplinary science and the good fortune of an ozone hole with no explanation other than manufactured fluorocarbons; and industry and government leadership inspired by the realization that life on earth was in jeopardy. In response to the 1974 warning by Dr. Mario Molina and Dr. F. Sherwood Rowland that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were destroying the stratospheric ozone layer, almost 100 ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) have been phased out under the auspices of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (Montreal Protocol). This paper describes how the United Nations, national governments, citizens, and companies came together pragmatically for the public good. It describes seminal events where individuals and organizational leaders set the stage, came to agreement, and implemented the technology that protects stratospheric ozone and climate. These individuals, who became “Ozone Champions,” often acted alone and with great courage when they were sideways and crossways to the organizations where they were employed. This paper also describes how practical lessons from the successful Montreal Protocol can guide our global society and how stakeholders can positively influence each other to achieve comprehensive atmospheric protection—including halting climate change. The final section considers how the approaches of the Montreal Protocol can dismiss skepticism and embrace technical optimism in implementing cleaner coal and carbon sequestration, even as society aggressively pursues low-carbon renewable energy, energy efficiency, and a transition to sustainable lifestyles.

While negotiations continue for a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by December 2015 to take effect in 2020, a parallel effort to achieve fast climate mitigation is needed under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (Montreal Protocol) to slow current impacts and reduce risks of passing tipping points that trigger self-amplifying feedback mechanisms that accelerate warming. Fast reductions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), including black carbon (BC), methane (CH4), tropospheric ozone (TO3), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), can cut the rate of climate change in half by mid-century and by two thirds in the Arctic. The Montreal Protocol can be used to quickly phase down production and consumption of high global warming potential (GWP) HFCs, which can avoid 0.1 °C of warming by 2050, and 0.5 °C by 2100, while catalyzing improvements in appliance energy efficiency, which will provide further climate change mitigation by reducing energy use and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, particularly in fast-growing economies like India and China. The simultaneous global deployment of existing technologies can reduce emissions of BC, CH4, and TO3by enough to avoid an additional 0.5 °C of warming by 2050, while providing immediate benefits for human health, agriculture, and sustainable development. Fast action to reduce the four SLCPs will reduce the risk of setting off irreversible feedback mechanisms and provide urgent optimism and momentum for a successful UN climate treaty in 2015.

This special issue on Ozone Layer Protection and Climate Change reflects the leadership of the Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) in drawing interdisciplinary attention to important environmental issues. The authors are scientists, diplomats, regulatory authorities, environmental activists, and scholars who are intimately involved in actions that protect the stratospheric ozone layer and climate. This issue provides new information and insightful analytic summaries of critical issues in the protection of the atmospheric environment and is also an urgent appeal to professors and students to place atmospheric protection prominently in thinking, research, teaching, and professional activities related to “sustainable development.” The authors describe and document the bold steps taken by individual and institutional leaders involved in the Montreal Protocol to thwart catastrophic ozone layer destruction, which incidentally, albeit on a sound scientific basis, addressed climate change. Because of strong leadership, effective networking, and concepts such the “precautionary principle” and “start and strengthen,” the Montreal Protocol is considered to be the most successful global environmental treaty. For example, thanks to innovative approaches adopted by both industry and government, the Montreal Protocol has already replaced about 85 % of ozone-depleting greenhouse gases with low global warming potential alternatives and increased product energy efficiency. But hardwork is needed to overcome the important challenges that remain, such as the phasedown of the 15 % of alternatives that are high global warming potential hydrofluorocarbons. Scientists, government officials, scholars, and business people must push for higher standards to achieve the combined goals of reducing both ozone-depleting substances and greenhouse gases.