Reading time: 8-10 minutes.
In the first week of April 2020, a hole of depleted ozone layer was found by the scientists but the development is being called a rare formation by the science community. One must have heard about the depletion of ozone layer over Antarctica- the problem that we have been grappling with since many decades. However, the new hole that has become a matter of concern, recently, has been found over Arctic region.
It was seen that a hole in the ozone layer i.e. a region of exceptionally depleted ozone, has been witnessed at an altitude of 18 km and is three times larger the size of Greenland. Agencies like that of Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) have been closely following the lead. It was observed that the powerful polar vortex had trapped frigid air in the Arctic region. As a result, the ozone depleting chemicals that were there in the atmosphere due to human activities reacted with the polar clouds and led to depletion of ozone. The process took place in stratospheric atmosphere. As of now, the scientists are optimistic since the temperature has begun to increase and it is anticipated that the hole shall cease to exist. However, meanwhile, if the hole goes southwards, the people living in Greenland can become dangerously vulnerable to sunburns and skin cancer. Also, the very fact that it is the largest hole recorded in the Arctic region after 1997 and 2011 makes us think what went wrong.
Significance of the development
It is being conjectured that the formation of hole was due to confluence of many events. In the initial months of 2020, the temperature in the Arctic region fell significantly low. Thus, the cold temperature this year caused the polar cortex to remain in the area for longer. Normally, in the Arctic region, polar vortex is short-lived, for, the wind system in the region, the mountain ranges existing in the area and population living on those landmasses contribute to the cause. However, this time, it gave ample time to the clouds to react with the ozone depleting chemicals that were already existing in the atmosphere. As a result, the ozone depleted incredibly and caused huge hole to form.
At the same time, it should be taken into consideration that in 2019, Antarctica witnessed the smallest hole formation that has ever been recorded. The temperature in Antarctica remains cold to the extent that the polar cortex remains stable in the stratospheric atmosphere for considerably long. For the past many decades, the ozone layer depletes over there during the Southern Hemisphere’s spring and as the ozone-rich air mixes with the ozone-deficit air, the concentration of ozone increases and the hole gets filled up.
Fortunately, the rate of ozone layer depletion has been losing its velocity. This is because, with the formation of Montreal Protocol in 1987, the concern towards the protection of ozone layer has been gaining momentum. Had this co-operation not taken place, the results would have been disastrous.
It is still unclear what led to such an event. Theorists are associating it with major global concerns that have been bothering us like climate change and shutdown due to COVID-19. However, they have been refuted and it will be very early to narrow down to a conclusion.
Ozone: Meaning and its significance
Ozone is a triatomic allotrope of oxygen which otherwise is found with two atoms in common form. It is said to have distinct and pungent odour. Interestingly, it is pale blue gas with explosive and toxic nature even in small concentration.
As far as formation of ozone in atmosphere is concerned, the sun rays split the oxygen molecule into single atom. Henceforth, those atoms combine with two-atomic oxygen. Concentration of such three-atomic ozone makes up the ozone layer that one can find at the altitudes from 20 to 25 km. However, the concentration of this layer is relative low when other gasses in the atmosphere are put into perspective.
The ozone layer protects the life on Earth from the powerful Ultra Violet rays (UV rays) of sun. In the absence of the layer, the people would become prone to skin cancer, cataract and impaired immune systems. The survival of other species would be jeopardised, as well. Therefore, it will not be incorrect to say that ozone layer plays astoundingly crucial role in sustenance of life on Earth. At the same time, the importance of ozone depends upon where it is concentrated. As far as it remains within the ozone layer, its presence becomes pivotal. However, its concentration in troposphere (about 10 km above the Earth’s surface) can lead to increased pollution level in the air that has its own consequences, for, it is said to be thousand times more potent than CO2 in terms of increasing greenhouse effect.
Everything in the universe exists at a stipulated balance and frustration of the same, has dire consequences too. Therefore, the imbalance in nature can cost a huge damage to the life on Earth and every timely measure should be taken to protect the environment.
Features of Montreal Protocol, 1987
In the two years that followed the creation of the 1985 Vienna Convention on the Protection of ozone layer, there was unimaginable progress in reaching a worldwide scientific accord with regards to the threat from ozone loss. Agreement was conjointly reached on outstanding scientific and technological matters. By September 1987, the difference of opinions and lack of understanding had given way to mutual trust among the international community. So, it was on 16 September 1987, that the Montreal Protocol on Substances that deplete the Ozone Layer was negotiated and signed by countries. As of 16 September 2009, it was ratified by 196 countries, achieving universal participation.
Though the protocol had come up with a number of amendments, the latest Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol is being eagerly looked forward to. On 15 October 2016, Parties to the Protocol adopted the amendment to phase down the production and consumption of those substances and it was brought into existence in Kigali, Rwanda.
There are eight key elements of Montreal Protocol:
- It needs all parties to eliminate the assembly and import of nearly 100 that eat up the ozonosphere, in accordance with timelines fixed unanimously.
- It emphasises on the helping developing countries. According to the protocol, these countries are given a 10-15 years grace period beyond the agreed timelines to fully terminate a substance.
- It includes a Multilateral Fund that may be a financial mechanism to assist qualifying developing countries to cease their consumption of ozone-depleting substances.
- It needs Parties to report annually on the assembly, import and export of every of the controlled ozone-depleting substances.
- It established Implementation Committee that is supposed to review the reports on production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances.
- It bars the Parties from trading ozone-depleting substances with parties who are not member of the Protocol.
- It needs regular assessments to allow Parties to form informed choices with the foremost up-to-date information on science, environmental effects, technology and economic science.
- Its flexible nature allows for more holistic and quality development. It has provisions to accelerate the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances while not looking the protracted formal method of ratification. It also includes provisions to facilitate the addition of new chemicals.
The Montreal Protocol controls nearly 100 chemicals that are grouped in the following categories:
- Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
- Carbon tetrachloride (CTC)
- Hydro chlorofluorocarbons (HCFC)
- Methyl chloroform
- Methyl bromide
India and the protocol
India became the signatory of Montreal Protocol on 17 September 1992. India’s per capita consumption of Ozone Depleting Substances is enormously less than what is permitted in the Protocol. Interestingly, only 7 substances out of 20 are used and produced by India that are regulated by the Protocol.
In order to give effect to the Protocol signed, India prepared an elaborate Country Programme (CP) to root out ODS while keeping in consideration, the national Industrial development Strategy of 1993. The sole objective was to meet the requirement of terminating the use of ODS without straining the customers and industries using those substances that were regulated by the Protocol. Furthermore, the programme gave India an opportunity to access the Protocol Financial Mechanism. In the due process of giving best results with respect to following the Protocol’s guidelines, India had the responsibility to ensure that the domestic economy does not get hurt. Therefore, the CP aimed to minimise the economic dislocation due to usage of non-ODS technology and at the same time, maximise the indigenous production.
After achieving a rapid momentum in this area, in 2002, India attributed its success by releasing a report, “THE MONTREAL PROTOCOL INDIA’S SUCCESS STORY” by Ozone cell under Ministry of Environment and Forests. It gave a detailed roadmap that India undertook to get the desired results. At the same time, it mentions the challenges that need to be reflected upon.
Recently, in 2018, India became the first country in the world to develop an action plan for regulating the cooling. Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Dr. Harsh Vardhan released a draft called India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) and another booklet of “MONTREAL PROTOCOL- INDIA’S SUCCESS STORY”. The plan primarily aims to give an impetus to research of technical solutions in “cooling and related areas” and reduction of cooling by a considerable percentage from different sectors.
It cannot be stressed enough that India has consciously taken the path of synergising the preservation of environment and at the same time making the economy robust.
There have been doubts that have arisen with regards to the researches in Montreal Protocol. The findings according to which all the 197 members run, when turns out false can become the reason for putting the credibility of the Protocol at stake. Evidence has emerged that there are still many chemicals that are short-lived and eat up the ozone but those chemicals, yet, cannot be found to be covered by Montreal Protocol. The major fallout was when it was found that the substitutes for banned substances were potent greenhouse gases.
Other loophole that can be witnessed is with regards to lack of transparency. It has been observed that the developing countries demand for more transparent deliberation on the working of Multilateral Fund provided by the Protocol. An open discussion on allocation of funds to developing countries is the need of the hour to smoothen the process of phasing out the CFCs.
The politicization of international treaties has been an ongoing phenomenon. The governments fail to realize that in pursuance of their petty nationalistic fantasies, they put the entire planet into danger. China has been blatantly using the banned substances in its industries. It was found that the atmosphere above Eastern China had shown reminisces of the ozone depleting substances. Moreover, there are chances that American administration may stop funding the Multilateral Fund of which it provides 20%. Unfortunately, it will turn out to be a huge impediment for the developing countries that rely on those funds to terminate the use of ozone depleting chemicals. Therefore, to conjecture that international treaties fail to check non-compliance, can be held right.
It was a “milestone for all people and our planet,” stated UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who highlighted the positive impacts of the Montreal Protocol on human health, poverty eradication, climate change, and protecting the food chain, at the event that marked 30th Anniversary of the Protocol in 2017. The Montreal Protocol is a highly celebrated international treaty. The magnitude of participation that is seen here is highly overwhelming. But there are many more challenges that still lay untouched and unseen. We need to pat our backs for whatever that we have achieved so far in this fight to protect Earth, however, this should not turn out to be our last pat.
Author: Samriddhi Sanga from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, Pitampura, New Delhi.
Editor: Tamanna Gupta from RGNUL, Patiala.