By David Reed, UT EditorWashington/Paris-The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has won the United States Environmental Protection Agency's Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award for the first time.The prestigious award was presented in Washington, 4 May, to the Paris-based OzonAction Branch of UNEP's Division of Technology, Industry and Economics. OzonAction has spearheaded the global efforts to eliminate ozone-depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol, providing a global information clearinghouse for monitoring the phase-out of ozone-depleting materials, working through regional networks of National Ozone Units.Announcing the award, the EPA praised the "leadership and innovation of the OzonAction Programme," adding that it has benefited well over 140 countries, helping them achieve and sustain compliance with the Montreal Protocol."The award reminds us of what can be achieved when the commitment of the poorest nations to protect the Earth for future generations is combined with the resolve of the richest countries to do their part for peace, prosperity and environmental health," said Rajendra Shende, head of the OzonAction branch, when accepting the award on behalf of UNEP. "What you get are amazing global success stories that go beyond conventional thoughts and immensely benefit humanity," he added."According to the best scientific knowledge, the chemicals that have been destroying the ozone layer are now 'at or near peak,' and could begin to dissipate slowly-if nations stay the course," Shende said. Participation in the effort is almost universal, with 189 countries having ratified the Protocol. And the international agreement is increasingly being recognised as a rare and important multi-lateral success story. In his recent report entitled, 'In larger freedom: Towards development, security and human rights for all,' UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, described the Montreal Protocol as an "encouraging example showing how global solutions can be found."Since 1991, the OzonAction Programme has provided services that assist developing countries and so-called 'countries with economies in transition' to achieve and sustain compliance with the Montreal Protocol, the 4 May statement from UNEP explained. The programme acts as the focal point for this multilateral environmental agreement (known as National Ozone Units) providing an information clearinghouse, training and regional networking opportunities. The programme simplified the messages from the Protocol's Technology and Economic Assessment Panel to help countries to make informed decisions about alternative technologies and ozone-friendly policies, the statement added.UNEP is one of the four implementing agencies of the Multilateral Fund that were set-up to assist developing country meet the protocol's requirements. Over 12 years, nearly $2000 million has been disbursed to 145 developing countries to enable them to comply with its demands.The EPA established the annual Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award in 1990, "to recognise exceptional leadership, personal dedication, and technical achievements in eliminating ozone-depleting substances." Previous recipients have included Cannon Group, the Italian polyurethane machinery manufacturer in 1999; and Carpenter Co., the privately held US PU foam making group, with Bally Refrigerated Boxes, a joint award in 2003. "