Sincere efforts needed to protect ozone layer

By George Cheriyan

September 16 is observed as the International Day for the preservation of the Ozone layer. Beginning in 1995, this day is observed, commemorating the date in 1987, on which the Montreal Protocol on ‘Substances that deplete the Ozone layer’ was signed. This year’s theme is ‘Universal participation: Ozone protection unifies the world’

Ozone Layer and causes for damage

Ozone layer is the region of the stratosphere containing relatively high concentrations of ozone, located at altitudes of 19-48 km above the earth’s surface. The ozone layer prevents most ultraviolet (UV) and other high-energy radiation from penetrating to the earth’s surface but does allow through sufficient ultraviolet rays to support the activation of vitamin D in humans. The full radiation, if unhindered by this filtering effect, would destroy animal tissue. Higher levels of radiation resulting from the depletion of the ozone layer have been linked with increases in skin cancers and cataracts and have been implicated in the decline of certain amphibian species.

The main causes of ozone layer depletion are the gases fluorine, chlorine and bromine, which are found in manmade halocarbons. Ozone destruction and the depletion of important chemical compounds from the atmosphere were tied closely to chlorine and bromine where are both derivatives of refrigerant gases. While chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halos are safe to use and cause no harm to the environment, they cause substantial damage to the ozone layer.

International Agreement

Inter-governmental negotiations for an international agreement to phase out ozone depleting substances started in 1981 and concluded with the adoption of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in March 1985. The Montreal Protocol on ‘Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer’ was adopted in September 1987. Following the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole in late 1985, governments recognised the need for stronger measures to reduce the production and consumption of a number of CFCs and several Halons. Montréal Amendment of 1997 finalized the schedules for phasing out methyl bromide while Beijing Amendment of 1999 included Bromo-chloro methane. It also introduced production controls on HCFCs (Hydro-chloro-flouro-carbons) as well as controls on trade with non-Parties. India ratified Montreal Protocol agreement in 1992.

Status in India and progress

After China, India is the world’s second-largest producer of CFCs. Many of the industries are using Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) in the manufacturing of various products. Government has developed policies and regulatory measures, incentives on investments made by the industries converting to non-ODS technology since 1995 and has entrusted the task of implementation of the Country Program to the Ministry of Environment & Forests. Subsequently, the ministry established a national unit called the ‘Ozone Cell’, which is the national focal point for the implementation of the Montreal Protocol. In addition, Ozone Depleting Substances (Regulations and Control) Rules, 2000 were also formulated.

As per available reports, India is steadily moving towards phasing out all ozone depleting substances by the deadline of 2010. As per Government sources, India has completely phased out CFCs as on 1st August, 2008 ahead of the agreed phase out schedule. However CFCs required for Metered Dose Inhalers (MDI) used by asthma and COPD patients is available. Further, the most important and critical target of 85% reduction target of CTC production and consumption has also been achieved. Halos have already been phased out since 2003. But there are reports that some of the manufactures are replacing CFC with Hydro Fluoro Carbon (HCF) & Hydro, Chloro, Fluoro Carbons (HCFC), which is also ODS, in CFC free fridges. India need strict enforcement to ensure that all ODS are phased out by the deadline.

Growing Concern

Though India is in the process of phasing out CFC, India is the world’s largest producer and smuggling source of CFC, as per UNEP reports. India now produces almost all the CFC that is still being produced in the world, and the amount it officially exports is frequently far lower than the amount reported by other countries to be imported from India. As much as 55% of these goods are unaccounted for. After drugs, CFC is the most smuggled commodity. This is a matter of serious concern. The industry need to see that the production and export is also stopped. Common man can contribute to stop ozone layer depletion in many ways by initiating activities to generate awareness on the issue followed up with local action.

The writer is director of the NGO CUTS International, Jaipur.