It’s been some time since we’ve seen hysterical headlines proclaiming the demise of the ozone layer and life as we know it, so what’s the latest in the fight to preserve Earth’s invisible, protective layer? Sunday September 16 marks 25 years since the Montreal Protocol was established. Its mission? To phase out the use of substances that cause the depletion of ozone – the protective layer that lies about 16km above the Earth’s surface to absorb ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun, and shield the planet’s inhabitants from its harmful effects.
Two years earlier, in 1985, a rapidly growing hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica was discovered by scientists. Once they were finally able to prove their findings, with a little help from NASA, it was enough to startle the authorities into action.
When the protocol was established, 20 nations signed up, and it was believed that if the agreement was adhered to, the ozone layer would recover by 2050. Since 1987 the protocol has been widely adopted across the world, and in 2005 Kofi Annan, then secretary general of the UN, noted that it was ‘perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date’. By September 16 2009, 196 countries had ratified the original protocol (there have been five revisions, the latest in Beijing in 1999) – including the UAE.
First on the agenda was to phase out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the harmful chemicals used in refrigerators and solvents. The chlorine components are particularly damaging to the ozone layer, while the carbon content is connected to global warming. The move was largely successful, though the substances – banned in the Middle East region in 2010 – were still being found by recycling companies in the UAE as recently as 2011, despite the country prohibiting their import. But even if we managed to eradicate all CFCs by tomorrow, the war against their damaging effect wouldn’t be over: these chemicals – also used in air-conditioning systems – take an average of 40 years to break down once they’ve been released.
Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) are the safest alternative around for manufacturers, but the Montreal Protocol committee has also got its eye on these, with plans to freeze production in 2013, and start reducing consumption and production in 2015. There are very few instances where HCFCs are essential (the main one being – ironically – asthma inhalers), so the transition shouldn’t have a major impact.
UAE government-owned Emirates Gas pioneered the Emirates Gas Aerosol Propellent (EGAP), essentially a replacement for conventional aerosols using CFCs as a propellent. It is also being promoted as a replacement – and more environmentally friendly alternative – fuel for cars, both in the UAE and the rest of the world.
Much of the responsibility lies with governments and manufacturers to find a way of maintaining the standard of living that we’re used to using greener technology. The use of ozone-depleting chemicals has already been cut by more than 90 percent. But there are plenty of ways you can help: check our box below to learn how.
For more information about the mission of the Montreal Protocol, and landmarks from the past 25 years, see www.facebook.com/my.ozone.day and www.facebook.com/ozonaction
Do it yourself
The small ways you can contribute to helping the environment
• Buy A/C units that don’t use HCFCs or CFCs. Check with the retailer, then check again. If you’re not convinced, note down the make and model number and do your own research online.
• When shopping for any new appliance, look for ‘ozone-friendly’ or ‘CFC-free’ labels.
• Use a roll-on deodorant instead of an aerosol propellant.
• When buying cleaning products, opt for squeeze-out liquids or those with manual pump sprays.
• Check A/C units, fridges and freezers regularly to ensure there are no refrigerant leaks.
• Dispose of old fridges or air-conditioning units at a recycling centre that will safely get rid of all parts – including CFC refrigerants – in the most environmentally-sound way possible.
Need help? Contact Dubai’s EnviroServe for advice on specific products. www.enviroserve.ae (04 885 2434).