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The task of protecting the ozone layer is far from over

Nairobi, September 1996 - From the beginning of this year, the production and consumption of chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) and many other chemicals, once hailed as miraculous until it was discovered they were destroying the Earth's protective ozone layer, have been phased out by all industrialized countries, save for small, permitted, essential uses. Developing countries have a grace period to follow suit. The Multilateral Fund, created in 1991, has so far disbursed about $US 500 million to assist developing countries to implement the Montreal Protocol.

This, the latest success story under the landmark agreement, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, is a tribute to the continuing spirit of cooperation and partnership exhibited by Governments, the scientific community, industry, non-governmental organizations and the general public to meet the threat posed by the depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer.

By signing the Montreal Protocol, Governments set a precedent for further international cooperation in dealing with global environmental issues: preemptive action was taken to prevent an emerging crisis. In recognition of this unprecedented international collaborative effort, the United Nations General Assembly, on 19 December 1994, passed resolution 49/114 which designates 16 September as the International Day for Preservation of the Ozone Layer, the date in 1987 that the Montreal Protocol - now ratified by 157 countries - was adopted.

The ozone layer, a fragile shield of gas which protects the Earth from the harmful portion of the rays of the sun, (namely, excess solar UV-B radiation) is being damaged by man-made chemicals released on Earth. The main dangers from the weakening of this shield is that it could lead to a rising intensity of the ground level solar UV-B radiation. This in turn could lead to increased rates of skin cancer and eye cataracts, to stunted agricultural production, and to the possible disappearance of phytoplankton - organisms which form the base of the marine food chain.

The main chemicals involved are CFCs (used in refrigeration, aerosols, and as cleaners in many industries), the halons (used in fire extinguishers), methyl bromide (used mainly for soil fumigation in agriculture) and some industrial solvents. Because CFCs and other chemicals remain in the atmosphere for decades, the ozone layer will be at its most vulnerable over the next decade.

The most important and effective measure included in the Montreal Protocol is the commitment to limit the use of, and to gradually phase-out, all of these man made chemicals (known as Ozone Depleting Substances or ODS), as agreed by the countries which are party to the Protocol.

There has been considerable progress. For many years, the atmospheric abundance of the CFCs and the industrial solvents has increased rapidly. However, since the early 1990s, as the measures specified in the Montreal Protocol were being carried out, atmospheric growth of the CFCs is beginning to slow down, and for one industrial solvent even to decrease.

Last December in Vienna, the Parties agreed to new commitments that will strengthen the Protocol. Most significantly, industrialized countries will phase out methyl bromide by the year 2010. They had earlier agreed only to a freeze, making methyl bromide the most powerful ozone-depleting substance not previously subject to a phase-out. Developing countries, which previously faced no controls at all, have agreed to freeze methyl bromide by 2002 at average 1995-98 levels, with further controls to be decided in the future.

"Governments must now maintain the momentum of Vienna by honoring their commitments to control ozone-depleting chemicals and contribute resources", said Ms. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Executive Director of UNEP, which hosts the Convention Secretariat. "We cannot afford to rest on our laurels. The key is having the political will to prevent short-term economic and social interests from undermining the long-term need to protect the ozone layer."

But, the dangers posed by the depletion of the ozone layer continue. A disturbing trend can be discerned in some developing countries where rapid economic growth has been accompanied by a simultaneous increase in ODS consumption. Although approximately 25% of the world's population has nearly completed the phase-out of ODS as called for in the Protocol, the remaining 75% in the developing world and in countries with economies in transition have yet to begin reducing their consumption.

"Unfortunately, because the problem is perceived by some to be solved, complacency has set in", said Mr. Madhava Sarma, Coordinator of the Ozone Secretariat. "The task of protecting the ozone layer is far from over. The biggest challenge for the international community now is to ensure that developing countries start phasing out ODS as soon as possible".

UNEP is doing its part to help developing countries make the transition to using non-ozone-depleting chemicals. Its OzonAction Programme was set up as part of the Industry and Environment Centre in Paris to provide information, organize training and assist those countries to prepare their own national programmes for ODS phase-out.

The general public, by being educated consumers, can also do their part and pressure local industries to adopt ozone-safe technologies at an early stage in their production processes.

Awareness, education and information are key factors in achieving the goals of the international agreements regarding the ozone layer. The main function of the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer is to enhance awareness and to share to the widest possible public such education and information.

Activities expected to take place in countries all over the world as part of the celebration of the second International Day for the Preservation for the Ozone Layer include:

(a) Honoring industries which are phasing out ODSs, and sharing their experience with other industries.

(b) Honoring individual scientists, technologists, media persons and administrators who are assisting in the phase-out of ODSs.

(c) Broadcasting to the general public television and radio programs related to the protection of the Ozone Layer.

(d) Publication of articles on the international ozone day in the printed media.

(e) Organization of scientific and technological conferences, meetings and workshops to discuss the ozone layer, its importance and means for its protection.

(f) Organization of competitions for schools on the awareness of the ozone problem.

(g) Involving non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in these activities.

The ozone layer is still fragile and the battle to protect it can only be won with the continuous support of all segments of society.
International Ozone Day provides a unique opportunity for the international community to reflect on the progress that has been made and to pull together to face the new challenges that lie ahead and ensure the permanent protection of the ozone layer.


For more information, please contact:
Mr. K. Madhava Sarma
Coordinator, Ozone Secretariat
Tel: 254-2-62-3851
Fax: 254-2-226-886

Mr. Rajendra M. Shende
Coordinator, OzonAction Programme
UNEP IE, Paris
Tel: 33-1-44 37 14 59
Fax: 33-1 44 37 14 74


Robert G. Bisset
Media/Information Officer
Information and Public Affairs
United Nations Environment Programme
PO Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: +254-2-623084
Fax: +254-2-623692

UNEP News Release 1996/49

Monday 16 Sep 1996
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