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Protection of the Ozone layer

29 March 1998 - Background Briefing Paper by K.M. Sarma Executive Secretary, Ozone Secretariat

Background Briefing Paper

K.M. Sarma
Executive Secretary

Ozone Secretariat

The ozone layer

Ozone is a poisonous gas of 3 oxygen atoms. It is very rare in the atmosphere, three molecules out of 10 million. Ninety per cent of ozone is in the upper atmosphere (stratosphere) between 10 and 50 km (6-30 miles) above the earth.

2. The ozone layer absorbs most of the harmful ultraviolet-B radiation from the sun and completely screens out the lethal UV-C radiation. This shield of ozone layer is one of the factors in protection of life on earth.

3. If the ozone layer is damaged, more UV-B will reach the earth. More UV-B means more skin cancers, more eye cataracts, less yield from plants, less productivity from the seas, damage to plastics, etc.

4. In 1970, Prof. Paul Crutzen pointed to the possibility of nitrogen oxides from fertilizers and from supersonic aircraft depleting the ozone layer.
Then in 1974, Professors F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario J. Molina identified CFCs as ozone depleters. The three scientists received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1995 for their pioneering work on ozone depletion.

 

The ozone depleting chemicals

5. CFCs (or more generally, halo-carbons) were discovered in 1928. They were considered 'wonder gases' having a long life, being non-toxic, non-corrosive, non-flammable and versatile. The use of these chemicals increased rapidly from the 1960s for many uses - aerosols, airconditioning, refrigeration, solvents, foams, firefighting, soil, storage and structural fumigation.

 

Action by UNEP

6. UNEP took up the issue of ozone depletion in 1976 and a meeting of experts on the ozone layer was convened in 1977. A Coordinating Committee of the Ozone Layer (CCOL), in cooperation with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) was set up to periodically assess ozone layer depletion.
In 1981, inter-governmental negotiations for an international agreement to phase out ozone depleting substances were initiated and culminated in the conclusion of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in March 1985, and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in September 1987.

7. The overall purpose of the Vienna Convention is to encourage research, monitoring of chemicals, including CFCs, and to promote cooperation and exchange of information. The Convention provides for Parties to undertake measures to protect human health and the environment against human activities that modify the ozone layer and to cooperate through research and systematic observation of the ozone layer.

8. The Montreal Protocol's main thrust is to gradually reduce and finally phase out both production and consumption of all ozone-depleting substances (ODS).
The Protocol provided for revision on the basis of periodic scientific and technological assessments. On the basis of such assessments by leading experts, the Protocol has been adjusted four times in London in 1990, Copenhagen in 1992, Vienna in 1995 and Montreal in 1997, to bring forward the phase out schedule of ODS. It has also been amended three times to add new controlled substances to the list and introduce other control measures related to ODS.

9. As of 20 February 1998, the Ozone Agreements had been ratified by countries as follows:

Vienna Convention - 166 Parties;
Montreal Protocol - 165 Parties;
London Amendment - 120 Parties and
Copenhagen Amendment - 77 Parties.

10. At present there are 95 chemicals controlled by the Protocol grouped as:

Chlorofluorocarbons - CFCs,
Halons,
Hydrobromofluorocarbons - HBFCs,
Other fully halogenated CFCs,
Carbon tetrachloride,
1,1,1 trichloroethane -
methyl- chloroform,
Hydrochlorofluorocarbons - HCFCs,
Hydrobromoflourocarbons -HBFCs
and
Methyl Bromide.

 

Control measures for the chemicals

11. Developed countries
- Phase out of halons by 1994.
Phase out of CFCs, carbon tetrachloride, methyl chloroform and HBFCs by 1996.
Phase out of Methyl Bromide by 2005.
Phase out of HCFCs by 2030.

Developing countries
- Phase out of HBFCs by 1996.
Phase out of CFCs, Halons and Carbon tetrachloride by 2010.
Methyl Chloroform and Methyl Bromide by 2015.
HCFCs by 2040.

 

Technologies

12. The success of international efforts to protect the ozone layer has been made possible because science and industry have been able to develop and commercialize alternatives to ozone-depleting chemicals. Developed countries ended the use of CFCs much easier and earlier than was originally anticipated.

13. Not-in-kind substitutes have proved particularly important in the electronics sector.
The foam-blowing sector has made use of water, carbon-dioxide and hydrocarbons, as well as HCFCs. The refrigeration and air-conditioning sector has largely used HCFCs (which are low ozone depleters) as alternatives but new equipment is increasingly using non-ozone depleting hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), ammonia, hydrocarbons, as in, for example, the 'greenfreeze' domestic refrigerator.

14. Consumers have used recycling of halons to provide extra time to develop substitutes for halons for firefighting. Other extinguishing agents such as carbon-dioxide, water, foam and dry powder are now widely used.

Alternative approaches, such as good fire prevention practices, use of fire resistant materials and appropriate designs for buildings have significantly reduced the need for halon systems, and total phase-out was achieved smoothly by 1994.

15. Phase-out efforts in industrialized countries are now concentrating on HCFCs and methyl bromide. Parties to the Montreal Protocol are mandated to ensure that HCFCs are used only as direct replacements for other ODS where other more environmentally suitable alternatives are not available. HCFCs were critical in meeting the early CFC phase-out goals, but are generally considered much less important for new equipment available in the medium and long-term.

16. The phase-out of methyl bromide is a more difficult issue. This is partly because it concerns agriculture and also because alternatives are less easily available. The major use is in agriculture, mainly for fumigation to control pests and weeds. Such treatment is often required by importers of agricultural products. Some countries have already subjected the chemical to controls because of concerns about its toxicity, much before the concern about its ozone depletion potential became an issue.

 

Multilateral Fund for developing countries

17. The Parties to the Montreal Protocol established at their second meeting (June 1990) a Financial Mechanism which included a Multilateral Fund. The purpose of the Multilateral Fund is to enable developing countries to implement their commitments under the Montreal Protocol. The Fund pays the agreed incremental costs to be incurred by developing countries for the phase-out of their ODS consumption and production. It is administered by an Executive Committee of 14 countries, chosen by the Parties to the Protocol every year, seven from developing countries and seven from developed countries.

18. The main achievements of the Multilateral Fund are:

  1. As of December 1997, nearly 89 per cent of 1991-1996 assessed contributions has been paid as well as 67 per cent of the 1997 contributions. A large portion of outstanding contributions are from countries recently classified as economies in transition;
  2. The Executive Committee has approved 86 country programmes, covering the estimated production of 68,950 ODP tonnes and the consumption of 152,600 ODP tonnes of controlled substances;
  3. So far, the Executive Committee has approved more than 2,000 projects and activities with a planned phase-out of 96,460 ODP tonnes of controlled substances and 12,940 ODP tonnes in the production sector, and allocated US$729.82 million for their implementation in 111 Article 5 countries;
  4. The Committee has allocated more than US$18 million for setting up ozone offices, US$68 million for technical assistance and training programmes and US$39 million for the preparation of country programmes and project proposals.

     

    Global Environment Facility (GEF)

    19. GEF had been established by the world community to assist the developing countries on four global environmental issues - ozone-depletion, climate change, biodiversity and international waters. GEF assists projects and activities for phasing-out ozone-depleting substances in Eastern European countries with economies in transition which are not eligible for assistance from the Multilateral Fund since they are not recognized as developing countries.
    These countries have experienced many problems in their transition to market economy and found it difficult to implement the Protocol.
    US$111 million has been sanctioned by GEF to assist the following countries Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine to implement the Protocol. The Implementing Agencies of GEF projects are UNDP, UNEP and the World Bank.

    20. Results of the Protocol
    The results of the Protocol in the last ten years have been startlingly good and have been hailed by many as a shining example for solving other global environmental problems.

    The total consumption of CFCs was about 1.1 million tonnes in 1986. By 1996, this had come down to about 160,000 tonnes.

    The consumption of the industrialized countries which stood at about a million tonnes in 1986 has been completely phased out but for a consumption of 10,000 tonnes for essential medical uses approved by the Parties.

    The developing countries have increased their consumption by about 30 per cent in the last 10 years, as permitted by the Protocol but, considering the high rates of economic growth in many of the developing countries recently, it should be admitted that the Multilateral Fund has succeeded in preventing undue rise in the consumption of CFCs.

    Developing countries will begin the implementation of their control measures in July 1999 and phase-out thereafter. Of the 120 developing countries, about 20 countries account for more than 90 per cent of the consumption of developing countries. Of these 20, key countries like Argentina, Chile, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Syrian Arab Republic, Thailand and Venezuela have already started their reduction of consumption in 1996.

     

    Status of the Ozone Layer

    21. Atmospheric scientists of USA, Europe, Japan and of many countries other countries have been observing the ozone layer for many years now. The ozone layer over the Antarctic, measured since the early 1980's, showed steady depletion so far.

    In 1985 the British Antarctic Team discovered massive losses of ozone ("ozone hole") over the continent. The land area under the depleted areas, increased steadily to more than 20 million square kilometres in the early 1990s and has been varying between 20 and 25 million square kilometres since.

    In the Antarctic spring of 1997 i.e. August-November 1997, the area of the ozone hole exceeded 24 million square kilometres (more than twice the area of Europe). It covered some populated areas of the Southern hemisphere.

    Scientists hold the cold atmosphere over Antarctic and the Polar stratospheric clouds responsible for the ozone hole. The ozone layer over Arctic has no "hole" but depletion of up to 30 per cent over the last few years has been observed. The depletion over Europe and other higher latitudes varies between 5 per cent and 30 per cent.

    22. The scientists also observe constantly the abundance of ozone-depleting substances in the atmosphere. They have reported that thanks to the Montreal Protocol, the growth rates of many CFCs are going down, though the absolute quantities are increasing. The atmospheric abundance of some CFCs, CFC-11, CFC-113, carbon-tetrachloride and methyl chloroform) is declining. The abundance of CFC substitutes is growing.

    The scientists have calculated that these observations are consistent with the assumption that the Montreal Protocol is working. Even though the Protocol is working well to reduce the consumption of ozone depleting chemicals, the long life of chemicals released in the past will keep the depletion going for a few more years.

    The scientists predict that the ozone layer will begin healing only by the year 2000 and we can expect the healing to continue, if the Protocol is fully implemented. The full recovery will be effected by the year 2050.

    23. The growth rates of halons, used in fire-fighting, have not decreased, even though new production has been phased-out in 1994, since the halons in existing fire-fighting equipment get emitted whenever there is a fire. This is worrying since bromine contained in halons is fifty times more efficient than chlorine of CFCs in depleting ozone.

    The Parties to the Protocol have requested the concerned expert panel of the Protocol to explore the implications of de-commissioning the existing halons systems and destruction of the halons therein.

     

    Future challenges

    24. While the Protocol has been hailed as an extraordinary success so far, there is no room for complacency. There are still some challenges to be faced.

     

    Non-Parties

    25. There are still 23 countries which have not ratified the ozone treaties. It is true that these are very small countries whose consumption of ODS is negligible but it is in the interest of these countries to ratify the agreements.

     

    Countries with economies in transition:

    26. The implementation of the Protocol from 1989 has unfortunately coincided with massive changes in the political and economic systems of the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. The instability in these countries till recently made the implementation very difficult. As a result, the Russian Federation and a few other countries admitted in 1996 that they will be unable to follow the phase-out time-table. They have, however, promised to complete the phase-out by the year 2000, if sufficient assistance is forthcoming. The Parties to the Protocol considered non-compliance by these countries and recommended assistance by the Global Environment Facility which has given the assistance and has so far disbursed $111 million to 11 countries in this region. These countries accounted for a consumption of about 150,000 tonnes in 1986. It has fallen significantly to about 20,000 tonnes in 1996. It is hoped that these countries will complete their phase-out by the year 2000.

     

    Illegal trade in CFCs

    27 . The major problem which arose in the last few years is the problem of illegal trade. There are many factors which contribute to this problem. All new CFCs are non-banned in all the industrialized countries. However, there are millions of pieces of equipment which use CFCs still in service. Alternatives to CFCs have been developed to service this equipment (car air-conditioners, etc.) whenever the CFCs leak out.

    However, some consumers consider the alternatives costlier. Also, the Parties to the Protocol have permitted the use and trade of recycled CFCs to maintain the existing equipments and it is difficult to distinguish between new and recycled CFCs. The production of CFCs is continuing in many countries.

    In industrialized countries, the production is continuing to meet their essential uses and to supply developing countries, as permitted by the Protocol.

    The developing countries are allowed to produce subject to controls only from 1st July 1999. Hence they have increased their production. Countries such as the Russian Federation are continuing production in non-compliance with the Protocol but have promised to phase-out by the year 2000.

    Also in United States the market price of CFCs is very high due to a high tax. All these factors contributed to some traders illegally exporting new CFCs to the industrialized countries either in the guise of recycled substances or in the guise of export to developing countries. The profits are said to be higher than those obtained by exporting cocaine. Obviously the total illegal trade cannot be estimated accurately but, is, perhaps, in the region of about 30,000 tonnes.

    28. The seriousness of this problem has been realized by the Parties. Countries such as the United States are taking stringent action against these smugglers by imprisoning them and fining them heavily.

    The European Union recently introduced tough controls. The Parties have also mandated that each Party should have a Licensing System to import or export CFCs. This makes it easy for the Secretariat to compare the figures and inform governments regarding the source of illegal CFCs.

    The World Bank is also raising $25 million from donors to buy off the production facilities in the Russian Federation and to close them down by the year 2000. This problem is one which will be cured by the closure of the factories throughout the world but, meanwhile, the Parties and the Secretariat will take all possible steps to minimize illegal trade.

     

    Methyl bromide

    29. Methyl bromide is an insecticide used for fumigation of soils structures and storage.

    Most of the use is in soil fumigation for high value crops. This chemical, apart from being an ozone depleter has many other toxic properties. Some countries like The Netherlands have banned its use because of these other toxic properties.

    The Parties to the Montreal Protocol understood its significance as an ozone depleter only in 1992 and the developing countries have accepted a phase-out schedule only in 1997.

    The total world annual consumption of methyl bromide is about 70,000 tonnes, most of it in the industrialized countries. At present it is used only in a small number of countries and only in high value crops.

    However, only 77 countries have ratified the Copenhagen Amendment of 1992 which introduced controls of methyl bromide. The other countries of the world have not accepted controls on methyl bromide.

    There is considerable danger, therefore, that the consumption of methyl bromide could spread to more countries and to more uses than at present. The challenge before the Parties is to stop this in time. Many alternatives are emerging for methyl bromide in various uses and the Multilateral Fund has taken up a $30 million programme to demonstrate these alternatives in developing countries.

     

    Implementation of Control Measures by the Developing Countries

    30. The Montreal Protocol allowed a grace period for developing countries in recognition of the fact that time will be needed for them to obtain and introduce alternative technologies.

    During this period they are allowed to increase their consumption to meet their basic domestic needs. They will have to implement the control measures from 1 July 1999.

    A number of countries, particularly in Asia and Latin America have been increasing their consumption in step with their high rates of economic growth. A time has come now for them to stop this increase and begin reversing the trend.

    The Multilateral Fund has been, and will be, of great help to these countries. It has to be remembered that the phase out by the industrialized countries represents a phase-out only 20 per cent of the world population and that the ozone layer protection is assured only if the remaining 80 per cent of the world in developing countries follows suit. This is a crucial challenge for the next 10 years.

     

    What would have happened if there were no Montreal Protocol?

    31. The ozone-depleting chemicals had reached a level of consumption of 1.1 million tonnes in 1986 - about one million tonnes in the developed countries and the rest in the developing countries.

    Quicker growth in the consumption of these chemicals was due to their many desirable characteristics including a long life. These chemicals are used in goods such as air-conditioners and refrigerators and the demand for these goods galloped in developing countries from the 1980s in step with their rapid economic growth.

    It has been calculated that the global consumption would have reached about 3 million tonnes in the year 2010 and about 8 million tonnes in the year 2060.

    32. The depletion of ozone layer from 1980 is about 5 per cent per decade. The increased consumption would have resulted in a 50 per cent depletion of the ozone layer by the year 2035.

    33. The implications of this increased ozone depletion would have been horrendous.

    There would have been nearly 19 million cases more of non-melanoma skin cancer up to the year 2060 and 3 million more cases upto 2030.

    There would have been nearly 1.5 million more cases of melanoma skin cancer by the year 2060.

    The number of eye cataracts would have increased by about 130 million cases by the year 2060, about 50 per cent of this in developing countries.

    There are many other unquantifiable effects such as loss of immunity, adverse impact on animals, lower productivity of crops, damage to aquatic eco- systems including fishing and degradation of plastics.

    There has been a study by the Government of Canada which calculated that while the world would ultimately spend many billions of dollars in changing to ozone-safe technologies, the benefits would exceed these costs many times.

     

    Lessons of the Montreal Protocol

    34. There are many lessons of the Montreal Protocol which can be applied to solving other global environmental issues.

    35. The first lesson is the application of the "precautionary principle".
    When governments acted in 1985 and 1987 there had been no actual damage to human health proved to be caused by ozone depletion.
    However, governments heeded the advise of the scientists that if they wait longer for a 100 per cent proof, the ozone layer would have been destroyed to such an extent as to cause serious adverse consequences and these consequences would have continued for many decades.

    The lesson, therefore, is to take action in time to prevent damage rather than wait till the damage has been proved by which time the damage would have been great and irreversible.

    36. The Protocol mandated specific time-tables for every country to phase out their profitable "wonder" chemicals. This signalled to the industry that these chemicals have no future and led to development of alternatives quickly. This "technology forcing" accelerated the phase-out. The Protocol created markets for the alternatives.

    37. Another important lesson of the Protocol is on how to act on issue when there is no scientific certainty. In 1987, there was considerable uncertainty about the extent of the ozone depletion, its adverse effects and availability of alternative technologies.

    The ozone-depleting chemicals were used in many industries and were considered irreplaceable. In order to deal with this uncertainty, governments took a small step first of a partial phase-out and involved the scientific community to advise them periodically on the further steps needed to protect the ozone layer and on the availability of alternate technologies.

    Four times so far in the last 10 years, the governments changed the Protocol in accordance with such scientific advice. For the first time, the scientific community has a front seat in environmental negotiations.

    38. One more lesson of the Protocol is in promoting universal participation, including of the developing countries in the Protocol by recognizing "common and differentiated responsibility" .

    It was realized early that it requires global participation to protect the ozone layer. While the developing countries had a small share of the consumption in 1986 (and, hence little responsibility for ozone layer depletion), their increasing consumption would have nullified the efforts of the industrialized countries to phase out these chemicals. The adverse impacts would have been felt by all.

    It was also realized that the developing countries may not have the skills, technologies or resources to implement the Protocol in time. Hence provision was made for a grace period, technology transfer and the Multilateral Fund.

    The developed countries alone contribute to the Fund while the Fund administered by a Committee of 14 members is equally divided between developing and developed countries.

    These steps resulted in almost all the countries committing themselves to the protection of the ozone layer.

    39. Another lesson is the integration of science, economics and technology both in devising the control measures and in implementing them. The assessment panels of the Protocol with experts from all areas including industry have provided expertise to the Parties to take informed decisions. The involvement of industry ensured development of cheap and effective alternatives.

Sunday 29 Mar 1998
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