ON September 16, 2017, Guyana joined the international community in celebrating International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer. This day marked 30 years since the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was first agreed.
As we pause to acknowledge this important milestone, it should be noted that its success can be largely attributed to a gamut of collective effort. For years, scientists have been studying the depletion of the ozone layer. However, this was formalised in 1985 at the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer when scientific data confirmed its alarming rate of ozone depletion.
This Vienna Convention was initially adopted and signed by 28 countries. Further, in 1994, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 16 September, 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 (resolution 49/114).
The Montreal Protocol at a glance
The Montreal Protocol aims to protect the ozone layer by controlling the global production and consumption of ozone depleting substances. The Protocol focuses on several groups of ozone depleting substances (ODS), approximately 100 of which require control. The Protocol also established a timetable for the phasing out of these ODS and their ultimate elimination.
While the success of the Montreal Protocol merits celebration, there are still some challenges. The Protocol does not prohibit the use of existing or recycled controlled substances beyond the phase-out dates. Additionally, there are a few exceptions for essential uses where no acceptable substitutes have been found. These include metered dose inhalers (MDI) commonly used to treat asthma and other respiratory problems and halon fire-suppression systems used in submarines and aircraft.
The Ozone layer
The ozone layer is a sheet of ozone gas (O3) which acts as a filter, protecting us from the harmful ultra violet rays of the sun. This layer of gas is found in the upper part of the atmosphere called the stratosphere. This is the good ozone which comprises about 90% of all ozone. However, in the lower parts of the atmosphere there is bad ozone formed by pollutants which is harmful to life.
Examples of ozone depleting substances (ODS)
* CFCs – used in aerosol products, as sterilants of medical equipment, food freezing, tobacco expansion, fumigation and cancer therapy.
* Foams – CFCs have been used extensively in the manufacture of polyurethane, phenolic, polystyrene and polyolefin foam polymers, used in many different products.
* Halons – used in portable fire extinguishers, fixed systems throughout the industrial, commercial, marine, defence, and aviation industries.
* HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) – used in the refrigeration, foam, solvent, aerosol and firefighting sectors as a transitional substance to substitute CFCs.
* Methyl bromide – used as a fumigant in agriculture, for pest control in structures and stored commodities, and for quarantine treatments.
The ozone layer and climate change
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Protocol while helping to protect and repair the ozone layer, has also greatly aided in the fight against climate change, the protection of human health and the environment. Efforts to address climate change focus on reducing the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The most obvious link between efforts to mitigate ozone depletion and climate change is the fact that certain ozone-depleting substances (ODS) such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydro-chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) are also powerful greenhouse gases.
In addition, hydro-fluorocarbons (HFCs) and other halocarbons, which do not deplete the ozone layer but are greenhouse gases, are currently commonly used as alternatives to CFCs and HCFCs. This illustrates the need to consider the implications for both issues when choosing alternatives to ODS, and to consider environmental impact as an important factor, in addition to technical and financial feasibility.
Guyana is among the countries that agreed to reduce the use of ozone depleting substances such as CFCs. This is done through the Hydromet Department, National Ozone Action Unit (NOAU) which is responsible for implementing the Protocol. To date, Guyana has taken several actions to achieve this goal, among them, promoting of and training for retrofitting of refrigerators to convert to non-CFC coolants.
Efforts have also been made to restrict the importation of CFCs, and to educate the public on recommended substitutes for CFCs. Today, we can boast of having successfully phased out CFCs in 2008, two years in advance of the January 2010 Protocol phase-out date. It is expected that Hydro-chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) will be reduced by 97.5% of current consumption by 2030. All national efforts have gone a far way in contributing to the global restoration of the Ozone Layer.
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