Protecting the atmosphere | Sunday Observer

Protecting the atmosphere

Sunset Meditation
Sunset Meditation

Living in space is not easy. Living on Planet Earth as it travels through space, we are potentially bombarded by everything from cosmic rays to meteorites. Ironically, it is our life-giving Sun that could pose the greatest danger in the form of harmful ultraviolet radiation. But, the Earth fortunately has a defence mechanism to protect all life on the planet from these rays.

It is called the Ozone Layer, a fragile shield of gas that protects the Earth from the harmful portion of the rays of the sun, thus helping preserve life on the planet. However, this layer was damaged by certain chemicals we used, such as, hydro chlorofluorocarbons widely used in the refrigeration and air-conditioning industry. This led to the creation of an Ozone Hole through which harmful rays could enter the Earth and affect our health.

Thirty years ago, world governments came together to take steps to protect the Ozone layer. The scientific confirmation of the depletion of the ozone layer prompted the international community to establish a mechanism for cooperation to take action to protect the ozone layer.

This was formalized in the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, which was adopted and signed by 28 countries, on March 22, 1985. In September 1987, this led to the drafting of The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

Yesterday (Sept 16), marked the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol under the theme Caring for all life under the sun. In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed September 16 the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, commemorating the date of the signing, in 1987, of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed September 16 the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, commemorating the date of the signing, in 1987, of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

The principal aim of the Montreal Protocol is to protect the ozone layer by taking measures to control total global production and consumption of substances that deplete it, with the ultimate objective of their elimination on the basis of developments in scientific knowledge and technological information.

The phase-out of controlled uses of ozone depleting substances and the related reductions have not only helped protect the ozone layer for this and future generations, but have also contributed significantly to global efforts to address climate change; furthermore, it has protected human health and ecosystems by limiting the harmful ultraviolet radiation from reaching the earth.

A number of commonly used chemicals were found to be extremely damaging to the ozone layer. Halocarbons are chemicals in which one or more carbon atoms are linked to one or more halogen atoms (fluorine, chlorine, bromine or iodine).

Halocarbons containing bromine usually have much higher ozone-depleting potential (ODP) than those containing chlorine. The man-made chemicals that have provided most of the chlorine and bromine for ozone depletion are methyl bromide, methyl chloroform, carbon tetrachloride and families of chemicals known as halons, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydro chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).

The Montreal Protocol requires the control of nearly 100 chemicals, in several categories. For each group or annex of chemicals, the Treaty sets out a timetable for the phase-out of production and consumption of those substances, with the aim of eventually eliminating them completely.

The HCFC phase-out schedule was introduced in 1992 for developed and developing countries, the latter with a freeze in 2015, and final phase-out by 2030 in developed countries and 2040 in developing countries.On September 16 2009, the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol became the first treaties in the history of the United Nations to achieve universal ratification.

No campaign can be a success without the involvement of the industry and the public and this was no exception. The #OzoneHeroes campaign launched on September 14 will seek to celebrate the major accomplishments of the Montreal Protocol in protecting the ozone layer and the climate, to increase public recognition of the success and impact of the Protocol, and to generate further support for the Protocol and its new mandate to phase down climate-warming hydro fluorocarbons under the Kigali Amendment, adopted in 2016.

Today, there is a great public awareness on the need to buy products that will not harm the Ozone Layer. For example, many advertisements for refrigerators and air-conditioning units in the local press invariably mention that they run on Ozone friendly R600 gas (or similar gas), instead of the older harmful gases. Many buyers ask the sales personnel at shops whether the compressor gas is environment and ozone friendly before pulling their wallets out.

This shows that the message has filtered through to the public. Sri Lanka indeed has a very good track record in complying with the Montreal Protocol with all stakeholders, including the Government, industry, product manufacturers and importers, repairers and the public involved in the decades-long effort.

Since the Montreal Protocol came into effect the Ozone layer has healed gradually. The recovery is not complete yet, but on the whole, it is past the level where it could pose a danger. This is a great example of how the world can come together to confront the environmental and other challenges.

The Paris Climate Change Accord is a similar initiative that hopes to roll back the effects of climate change, with only three countries not signing up to it.

The world needs more such cooperation and collaborative efforts to confront its problems, including, but not limited to urbanization, food security, environment, species extinction, population growth and immigration.

It is not only the Ozone layer that should be protected – the entire atmosphere should be protected, because without it we will be extinct in next to no time. No group of people, industries or countries should be allowed to use up our air’s pollution-carrying capacity and overwhelm the atmosphere’s fragile balance.

This is why it is essential to curb greenhouse gas emissions through a worldwide effort. Hopefully, the Paris Climate Accords will have the same level of success as the Montreal Protocol. 

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