United Nations claim that Montreal Protocol can solve the ozone conundrum

A beam of hope amidst the turmoil

Business & Politics

November 14, 2018

/ By / New Delhi

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A UN report says that after decades of thinning, earth's ozone layer is slowing recovering

A UN report says that after decades of thinning, earth’s ozone layer is slowly recovering

The United Nations announced that the Montreal Protocol would eradicate the ozone depletion problem on a long term basis. However, following the Protocol would have to be mandatory by all the participant nations for it to work effectively.

Read this: ‘World is falling apart.  The future of humanity is hanging on cliff, on the edge of catastrophe. But there still is a hope and window of opportunity to take action’. That sounds like a typical United Nations Press Release either on climate change or loss of biodiversity on land or in ocean.

Now, read this: ‘We have successfully overcome the challenge on the long term basis, but we have now to build on that success and stay put to gain more benefits’. This sounds like a private sector CEO’s statement in share-holder’s meeting. But that’s what exactly happened in the United Nations meeting on November 5, 2018. A rare declaration coming from any UN meeting ever!

A press-note from the United Nations on that date said, ‘The findings of a new UN-backed report released today, revealed that the ongoing healing of the ozone layer, are being hailed as a demonstration of what global environmental agreements can achieve, and an inspiration for more ambitious climate action to halt a catastrophic rise in world temperatures’. The report warns that a full recovery of the Ozone layer demands continued efforts by all countries to comply with the Montreal Protocol.

Healing of the ozone hole

Ozone layer, a thin shield 15-45 kms above the earth, protects life on the earth. It is put on the path of recovery due to the globally agreed actions, that did not remain on the paper as in case of climate change but were implemented as per the agreed schedule under the historic Multilateral Environmental Agreement called the Montreal Protocol.

The agreement was carved out over 30 years ago in response to the revelation that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone-depleting substances – used in aerosols, cooling and refrigeration systems, and many other items – were piercing a hole in the ozone layer and allowing life threatening ultraviolet (UV) radiation to flood through on the earth. The consequences of such high energy UV rays escaping down on the earth included higher incidences of skin cancers, cataracts, loss of immune system and lower food production on land and fish production in oceans.

Good news came from the place, nearer to stratosphere, 10,000 ft above sea level in the capital of Ecuador, Quito.  United Nations’ quadrennial scientific assessment jointly done by United Nations Environment (UNE) and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) emphatically concluded the continued healing of the stratospheric ozone hole.

The satellite and ground level observations by NASA, NOAA, European Space Agency and scores of the weather stations around the world have clearly divulged that world is now safer than what it was in 1980s, at least from a deadly attack of the UV rays. Recovery of the ozone layer has been up to three per cent per decade since the start of the 21st century.

Indeed, this good news amidst global turmoil in environmental degradation is more than simply encouraging. It is singularly successful outcome of the unique international agreement, that may inspire to take actions on climate change. The global community has worked collectively to achieve this result. Actions under the Montreal Protocol over last more than 30 years have led to sustainable decreases in the atmospheric abundance of ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) like CFCs.

Riding on success

The inspiring words of Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, “The Montreal Protocol is one of the most successful multilateral agreements in history for a reason i.e. the careful mix of authoritative science and collaborative action that has defined the protocol for more than 30 years, was set to heal our ozone layer”, say it all.

At projected rates, northern hemisphere and mid-latitude ozone is scheduled to heal ozone layer completely by the 2030s followed by the southern hemisphere in the 2050s and polar regions by 2060. CFCs and other phased out ODS are now part of the history book. The principles deployed in implementation of the Montreal Protocol are now part of the guidelines for future sustainability.

On January 1, 2019, riding on the white-horse of success, the Montreal Protocol will enter in the arena of climate change. Called as ‘Kigali Amendment of 2016’ to the Montreal Protocol it would now engage itself in the efforts to phase-out of HFCs, powerful global warming/ greenhouse gases (GHGs), introduced to implement the ‘successful’ protocol.

In a way the Montreal Protocol transformed itself from being ozone -treaty to climate treaty. Even there too, it is slated to contribute immensely to the Paris Climate agreement. Full compliance to Kigali Amendment would reduce future global warming due to HFCs by about 50 pc between now and 2050 compared to a scenario without any HFC controls.

This is critically important when the world is struggling from the shock with a stark warning from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which found just 12 years (which coincides with 2030-an end point for SDGs!) remain to limit global warming to 1.5°C, beyond which, the impacts of a further rise in global temperatures will begin to have an increasingly extreme impact on human society and ecosystems.

The IPCC report offered the clearest evidence to date of the drastic difference between the 1.5°C and 2°C scenarios. The Montreal Protocol may as well turn out to be master saviour of the world from climate change.

Ozone layer recovery heralds a message that collective actions to discharge the common but differentiated responsibilities could successfully face the climate challenge.


Rajendra Shende, Chairman TERRE Policy Centre, Senior Expert UNEP TEAP, Advisor IIM Rohtak Bizdome, Advisor Media India Group and Former Director UNEP

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