CEE Professor Ganguly Joins United Nations Panel

CEE Professor Ganguly is a United Nations Environmental Effects Assessments Panel (UN EEAP) review member to the upcoming 2018 quadrennial assessment report. The United Nations Environmental Effects Assessments Panel (UN EEAP) was formed to assess the impacts on ozone layer depletion, and report their findings to the United Nations, and in turn to the signatories of the Montreal Protocol. CEE Professor Ganguly was in the review panel of the 2010 UN EEAP Assessment Report, and is currently contributing as a review panel member to the upcoming 2018 quadrennial assessment report. While Ganguly is not an atmospheric chemist, his primary relevant expertise will be in the interactions with climate change (including, e.g., impacts on weather extremes and hydrological stresses, and consequences across multiple sectors). Ozone depletion (and the measures taken to reduce the ozone hole) impacts, and is in turn impacted by, climate change (and mitigation or even adaptation strategies), while the two jointly impact human health and air quality, land-water-marine ecosystems, atmosphere-land-water interactions, and durability of materials.

The international agreement to protect the ozone layer, or more formally, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, was a landmark treaty for humanity. The protocol, currently ratified by all members of the United Nations, is expected to protect the ozone layer, thereby saving human lives (e.g., by reducing cancer deaths) and improving our quality of life. Furthermore, the Montreal Protocol can be an important lesson learned for policy makers and concerned citizens, in terms of developing coordinated world-wide action to solve global environmental priorities.

As explained in an article in Encyclopedia Britannica, a 1974 paper in the journal Nature by Mario Molina and F.S. Rowland (both of whom subsequently won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry), was the first to suggest that man-made chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) compounds are responsible for the destruction of ozone in the stratosphere, and causing what is now referred as the “ozone hole” (here is a NASA website with more information on the topic). Ganguly considers himself lucky to have taken a graduate course on Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry co-taught by Mario Molina more than a couple of decades back. CFC compounds, which were commonly used as refrigerants and aerosol sprays, and other man-made Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS), upon rising to the stratosphere owing to wind-induced mixing, reacts with sunlight to release chlorine and chlorine monoxide, which in turn destroys ozone molecules, leading to the ozone hole. In a remarkable display of science translating to policy leading to action, the Montreal Protocol was signed in 1987 and entered into force in 1989, just 13 and 15 years respectively after the publication of the original 1974 Nature paper.

The success of the science leading to the Montreal Protocol, and the demonstrated ability of consequent global policy and actions to reduce the potential harm caused to people and to biodiversity across the world, can act as important lessons learned for the major environmental challenges currently facing Mankind. This is exemplified by a 2012 opinion article in the New York Times, which discussed how former US President Ronald Reagan, a conservative icon and usually “skeptical of costly environmental rules”, was an “environmentalist hero … with respect of the protection of the ozone layer”. President Reagan’s common-sense belief in cost-benefit analysis made this possible, the article argues, and suggests how similar risk benefit analyses may justify action on climate change. While climate change remains a painfully polarizing political issue in the United States (e.g., see here and here), and some have debated (while others have defended) the connection with the Montreal Protocol (e.g., see here, here, and here), cost-benefit and risk analyses remain as relevant today as they were in President Reagan’s times. Perhaps consensus can at least be reached on the need for, just as few examples, critical infrastructures resilience, natural hazards preparedness, and food-energy-water security, which will remain important for the US and for the world regardless of climate change, although the latter is expected to (per the US DOD) act as a “threat multiplier” (e.g., see the US DOD report here)?


Related Faculty: Auroop R. Ganguly

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering