A new study published in the journal Nature, has found that international co-operation through the Montreal Protocol helped not only to restore the ozone layer in the southern hemisphere, but also restore the southern jet stream to a normal state after decades of disruption.

The Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987, is a landmark international agreement between 197 parties to phase-out the use of ozone-depleting substances. It placed legally binding restrictions on the use of chemicals and aerosols that contain chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which deplete the ozone in the upper layers of earth's atmosphere, which protects all living things from most of the harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun.

The southern jet stream is a powerful wind that affects weather patterns and currents in the oceans in the southern hemisphere. Since the hole in the ozone layer formed in the late 1970s, the jet stream has been moving southward towards the Antarctic at a rate of one degree of latitude each decade, affecting wind patterns up until about the year 2000.

The article states that pre-2000 wind circulation trends affected rainfall over South America, East Africa and Australia, likely to causing increased droughts in those regions, and potentially ocean circulation and salinity of the ocean water. The study anticipates that the effects of the Montreal Protocol and the associated stratospheric ozone recovery might manifest in weather patterns across the whole World.

Lead author of the published article, Antara Banerjee said: "It's a success story. There is more evidence that the Montreal Protocol has lead to the recovery of the ozone layer."

However, the restoration of ozone is not enough to push southern hemisphere weather patterns back to normal (as they were prior to industrial emissions) due to the greenhouse gas emissions which still impact the jet stream and force it in opposite direction.

Banerjee added: "There is a tug of war between ozone recovery and increasing CO2. That's why we are seeing a pause. In the near future, the ozone factor could dominate and the jet stream will move back towards the equator. But once the recovery is complete, COcould push it southwards again."

Since the announcement of the lockdown across the UK, images have been emerging of different workplaces - unable to close as employees cannot work from home - in which workers are standing or sitting shoulder to shoulder or within very close proximity to one another. Concern has been rising that employees are not adhering to social distancing rules and/or employers are not enforcing them.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, has been particularly vocal about these issues in the last few days, concerned that companies are "nowhere near" meeting social distancing rules. Mr Burnham subsequently called for "stronger policy on workplaces now".

The GMB Union has even gone as far as stating that employers should close their premises if they cannot make their workplaces safe, with General Secretary Tim Roache suggesting everyone should be trying to do their bit to keep frontline staff, such as the NHS, safe.

However, it is extremely difficult in some professions to maintain a two-metre distance from everyone else at all times. Those working in shops, for instance, cannot always be that far separated. Although some supermarkets have taken measures to place screens in front of tills to protect employees, this is not possible in all places. There is also a particular issue in the construction industry, with crowded sites being a concern.

Former Cabinet Secretary, Gus O'Donnell, has highlighted that the issue is also present in the House of Commons, as images from the House have shown ministers crowded together. Now that Parliament has been suspended, that may no longer an issue, but it shows the extent of the issue across all workplaces still operating in the UK.

There is now mounting pressure on the government to address this. However, it is also a perfect time to remind employers that they have a general duty, under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all employees. Although this is a very strange and rare situation, risk assessments should be updated and new rules or systems of work should be implemented wherever possible to avoid the potential spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

For more information, see:

The Great Barrier Reef bleaches again
Published: 30 Mar 2020

Scientists have confirmed that Australia's Great Barrier Reef has suffered yet another bleaching event. This is the third time in five years that it has happened, with warmer sea temperatures being blamed for potentially huge losses of coral across the reef system.

Coral bleaching occurs when the water is too warm for the coral. The coral then expels the algae living in their tissues which ends up turning the coral white. Hence the term "bleaching". Similar events took place in 2016 and 2017 and ended up damaging as much as two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef. Now another such event has been recorded, raising great concerns for the reef system.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority used information from underwater and aerial observations, as well as science and technology, to discover the current conditions. Chief Scientist, David Wachenfeld, told the BBC, "The reef had only just begun recovering from impacts in 2016 and 2017 and now we have a third event. Climate change is making the extreme events that drive those impacts both more severe and more frequent, so the damage in an event is worse."

Australia has now downgraded its five-year reef outlook to "very poor".

Coral reefs serve as far more than tourist hotspots for divers; they both provide for and protect life. Corals contain some of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth and provide shelter for several marine organisms. Furthermore, they can also help coastlines battle the damaging effects of waves and storms. It is therefore extremely important that these areas are protected.

With global temperatures continuing to rise, and action against climate change only gradually being taken (especially during this pandemic, where the focus of governments worldwide is aimed solely at containing COVID-19), there is a concern that bleaching events such as this will not be preventable in the future.

Town Planning can be a very sociable profession at times. Combine site visits, client meetings, committee meetings and appeal hearings together, and it can result in a large amount of people being brought together in the same place. As the government has ruled that social distancing measures must be in place wherever possible, there is a chance that some elements of planning will not be able to continue for the time being.

There is a requirement under law that councillors are present to decide applications. This causes somewhat of a conflict for local authorities carrying out committee meetings to decide on planning applications whilst social distancing and lockdown rules are in place.

However, the Coronavirus Act 2020 contains provisions that allow meetings to be held remotely, stating that those speaking at, voting in, or participating in other ways in, local authority meetings can do so without any of those people being together in the same place. This can take place up until May 2021.

As a result, planning committee meetings can now be held virtually, ensuring key decisions on planning applications can still be made.

Similarly, Scotland's Directorate of Planning and Environmental Appeals has insisted that its casework will continue, stating that the use of interactive technology such as Skype will allow hearings and inquiries to go ahead, although there will perhaps be a focus for the time being on appeals by written representations.

Barristers in the Planning Court have also taken part in a remote substantive hearing, whilst the judiciary has issued guidance for the conduct of remote hearings in civil justice.

Thanks to the utilisation of technology and legislative intervention from the government, there is hope the planning system can continue to function during this pandemic.

European air pollution drops
Published: 27 Mar 2020

In the wake of the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown of China, satellite images showed significant drops in air pollution and emissions across large parts of the country.

Now that most of Europe has followed suit, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has also reported significant decreases in air pollutant concentrations, including nitrogen dioxide which has been a particular concern recently and has sparked a war on diesel fuelled vehicles.

Across Italy, one of the first countries in Europe to announce a lockdown, nitrous dioxide levels are on average 20-30% lower than they were a month ago. Similar trends have been seen in other countries, such as Spain, where in Madrid average nitrous dioxide levels fell 56% in just a week.

Although it makes sense that a significant and sudden reduction in transport and industry would result in fewer emissions, the data shows just how much humans are contributing to both dangerous air pollution and airborne emissions, which in turn damage the environment in many ways, as well as impact upon human health.

It is hoped that this strange but essential lockdown period can be something to learn from, especially from an environmental viewpoint. When the lockdown is lifted, there is a danger that humans will simply return to their old ways and emissions will suddenly and significantly rise. However, there is an opportunity to use this period, build upon the positive lessons it can give us, and work out some long-term solutions to air pollution.

EEA Executive Director, Hans Bruyninckx, said "The EEA’s data show an accurate picture of the drop in air pollution, especially due to reduced traffic in cities. However, addressing long-term air quality problems requires ambitious policies and forward-looking investments. As such, the current crisis and its multiple impacts on our society work against what we are trying to achieve, which is a just and well-managed transition towards a resilient and sustainable society."

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has stated they are aware there could be a disruption for those trying to re-qualify for first aid certificates which they require for work.

Consequently, the HSE has announced that certificates for:

  • Offshore Medic (OM);
  • Offshore First Aid (OFA);
  • First Aid at Work (FAW); or
  • Emergency First Aid at Work (EFAW),

expiring on or after 16 March 2020 may have the validity of their current certificate extended by up to three months.

This should be used where requalification training has been prevented for reasons associated directly with coronavirus or due to complying with related government advice.

Anyone taking advantage of this extension should be able to describe clearly their reasons for delaying requalification training, and demonstrate steps they have taken to undertake the training, if required.

The HSE also made an announcement in relation to diver's certificates of medical fitness, saying that any diver with a 12-month certificate of medical fitness to dive which expires on or after 16 March 2020, may be accepted until 1 June 2020, where you can't obtain a medical re-examination with an approved doctor due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Again, divers must be able to explain why they haven’t been able to take a medical examination and demonstrate steps taken to try to get one. Any divers would also need to confirm that they have not been diagnosed with or suffered an illness or injury that could impact on their fitness to dive. 

The HSE will continue to review this matter over the coming months and as necessary update their advice on this matter.

On the back of the HSE's announcement the Department for Education also issued a statement supporting the extension of first aid certificates, saying that this can also be applied to staff employed in early years who hold paediatric first aid certificates.

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