Restoring The Ozone Layer Through Diplomacy

Ozone Layer and Its Depletion


The Story So Far

The world was terrified in 1985 when scientists found a large hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica. Experts quickly cautioned that the increased intensity of UV radiation now penetrating the atmosphere might considerably increase the prevalence of skin cancer and cataracts, as well as harm world agriculture and the marine food chain. The ozone layer produces a protective shield over the Earth, absorbing harmful UV rays that can harm us all. The ozone hole became a worldwide sensation when knowledge of it circulated via the media. Scientists tried to figure out what caused the hole, while the public expressed concern for the scientists working in the South Pole, fearing that they would be exposed to UV rays, which might cause blindness and sunburn. Concerns that increasing radiation might induce cataracts—as well as the possibility of increased skin cancer—stoked popular worries.

At the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, ozone depletion was not discussed. However, scientists soon realised that certain human-made substances presented a major threat to the ozone layer. Mario Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland, Nobel Laureates, published a study in 1974 demonstrating that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) cause ozone depletion. According to their findings, CFCs emit chlorine atoms into the stratosphere, which function as a catalyst for the disintegration of ozone molecules. They also discovered that CFCs can survive in the atmosphere for decades. CFCs are inert, non-flammable, non-toxic, colourless, odourless, and adaptable to a wide range of purposes, having been developed in the 1920s to replace flammable and nasty refrigerants. Coolants in refrigeration and air conditioning, propellants in aerosol sprays, solvents in the cleaning of electronic components, and the blowing agent in the creation of flexible and stiff foam were all made with CFCs.

To avert the scenario in which the globe faced both detrimental ozone and climatic effects, coordinated worldwide action was required. However, considerable strides have been made to heal the ozone layer through the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. . As a result of the treaties’ acceptance, it helped to prevent two million cases of skin cancer per year, or an additional 443 million cases of skin cancer and 2.3 million deaths by 2100, including 8-10 million cases of malignant melanoma. These agreements are also credited for preventing 63 million extra cataract cases, as well as a 6% global decline in plant productivity for every 10% loss of ozone.

Ozone Layer and Its Depletion

The ozone layer is a zone in the stratosphere 15 to 35 kilometres above the Earth’s surface with a high ozone concentration. The ozone layer protects us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays by acting as an invisible screen. The ozone layer, in particular, protects us against sunburn-causing UV-B radiation. Because long-term exposure to high amounts of UV-B endangers human health and harms most animals, plants, and bacteria, the ozone layer safeguards all life on Earth. The sun’s UV-B radiation is absorbed by ozone. When ozone absorbs UV-B, it splits into an oxygen molecule (O2) and a single oxygen atom (O). The two components can later recombine to produce the ozone molecule (O3). The ozone layer absorbs UV-B in the stratosphere, preventing hazardous quantities of ultraviolet radiation from reaching the Earth’s surface.

Ozone is constantly being created and destroyed. UV-C is a type of ultraviolet light that the sun generates in addition to UV-B. UV-C radiation is entirely absorbed by oxygen molecules in the stratosphere and never reaches the Earth’s surface. UV-C breaks down oxygen molecules into atoms. Ozone is created when these single atoms react with other oxygen molecules. As a result of these processes, the amount of ozone in the stratosphere increases. However, ozone isn’t the only gas that exists in the stratosphere. Additionally, nitrogen and hydrogen-containing gases are also found in the stratosphere, where they participate in reaction cycles that degrade ozone and convert it back to oxygen. As a result, these interactions reduce ozone levels in the stratosphere. The natural equilibrium between ozone generation and destruction maintains a steady ozone concentration in the stratosphere when it is not disturbed. Sadly, as humans, we do not allow this natural process to continue unabated.

The main source of ozone loss has been identified as man-made compounds, including halogens. Ozone-depleting compounds are a group of chemicals that deplete the ozone layer (ODSs). Thousands of products in people’s daily lives around the world included ODSs. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were the most common ODSs, and they were once widely employed in air conditioners, refrigerators, aerosol cans, and asthma inhalers. Other compounds that deplete the ozone layer include hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), halons, and methyl bromide. When a CFC molecule enters the stratosphere, it absorbs UV light and decomposes, releasing chlorine atoms. Up to 100,000 ozone molecules can be depleted by a single chlorine atom. With the increasing frequency of chlorine and bromine reactions upset the delicate chemical balance that keeps the ozone layer in place, causing ozone to deplete faster than it is formed. Hence, more UV-B radiation reaches the Earth’s surface due to ozone depletion; however, UV-B varies naturally. UV-B levels are higher in the tropical regions than in temperate or polar latitudes and higher with increasing altitude than at sea level. UV-B fluctuates according to season (peaks in mid-summer at temperate and high latitudes) and time of day (peak levels occurring around mid-day). Cloud variations have a big impact as well.

The Ultra-Violet Index (UVI) is one approach to measure this natural variation in UV-B. Ultra-Violet Index is a measure of sunburning UV radiation that is now routinely used in weather predictions to show UV levels. Any UVI greater than 11 is considered excessive by the World Health Organization (WHO); however, with an intact ozone layer, such high UVIs only occurs at high altitudes in the tropics. UVI levels of over 25 would have happened at most latitudes by the middle of this century, while UVI values in the tropics would have reached over 50, or five times the present definition of “extreme” UV exposure. Overexposure to UV radiation has been linked to the development of the three most frequent types of skin cancer (malignant melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma). The risk of cataracts is enhanced even when exposed to high amounts of UV light. According to studies, if ozone depletion had not been adequately controlled, over 63 million more cataract cases would have developed in people born in the United States between 1890 and 2100.

Even large-scale increases in UV-B could disrupt the exchange of carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and the biosphere due to these effects on ecosystems. UV radiation also promotes the decomposition of decaying leaves and other organic substances. Increased UV-B would diminish ecosystems’ ability to trap carbon dioxide, especially carbon dioxide created by human activities when combined. Large-scale ozone depletion would have exacerbated the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which causes climate change, in this way. Changes in UV-B affect nitrogen and other chemical cycles in the environment, potentially worsening air pollution. UV-B rays can also harm both natural and manufactured materials. Depletion of the ozone layer on a large scale, resulting in increased exposure to the sun’s UV radiation, would exacerbate this damage and weaken these materials. This would have resulted in faster deterioration and the requirement for additional UV protection, raising the cost of many products and diminishing their reliability.

To counter all these consequences, the international community chose to address ozone depletion in the 1980s. Scientists and policymakers encouraged countries to limit their use of CFCs as proof of their harm to the ozone layer grew, as did knowledge of the various implications of uncontrolled depletion. In response, the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer (Vienna Convention) was adopted in 1985, followed by the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (Montreal Protocol) in 1987. They are the first worldwide environmental treaties to have universal support from 198 countries.

Diplomacy on Role: From Vienna Convention to Montreal Protocol

The ozone layer is a tremendous success story for multilateralism. Mario Molina and F. Sherwood Roland’s research demonstrated that CFCs can deplete the ozone layer, and this, combined with British scientists Joseph Farman, Brian Gardiner, and Jonathan Shanklin’s confirmation of an ozone hole above the Antarctic in 1985, prompted the global community to coordinate an effective response to the shared crisis. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) approved the World Plan of Action on the Ozone Layer in 1977, which was the first step. In 1981, a decision to write a worldwide framework convention on stratospheric ozone protection was made in response to this strategy, which called for rigorous international study and monitoring of the ozone layer. The Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer was finally adopted in 1985 as a result of this.

The Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer (Vienna Convention) was signed in 1985 and came into effect in 1988. The parties to the Convention undertook to conduct study and monitoring on the impacts of human activities on the ozone layer, as well as take meaningful action against activities that are likely to harm the ozone layer. The Convention does not oblige governments to take specific measures to regulate ozone-depleting compounds. The Vienna Convention was a significant step forward in ozone protection. Many were dissatisfied, however, as it did not include controls and instead focused on research, collaboration, and monitoring.

Hence, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was expanded to include control measures for CFCs and halons just two years later, in 1987, after the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole. The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is a global agreement that aims to safeguard the Earth’s ozone layer by prohibiting the consumption and manufacturing of most ozone-depleting substances. The historic agreement was signed on September 16, 1987 – World Ozone Day – and went into effect in 1989. The Protocol lays out a series of practical, actionable steps to phase out ozone-depleting compounds that have been unanimously accepted. The Protocol is exceptional in that it can adapt to new scientific findings. Since its establishment, the Protocol has achieved its goals and continues to protect the ozone layer today, owing to the fact that it was one of the first international accords to address a problem caused by current acts but with consequences that would take years if not decades, to manifest. It works well at the confluence of science, diplomacy, and business. It’s also been intelligently designed so that if scientific evidence indicates that more action is required, it may be adjusted and amended. With the London, Copenhagen, Montreal, Beijing, and most recently, Kigali Amendments, this method has proven to be extremely effective.

The Protocol has always made judgments based on strong science. It contains three evaluation panels: the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel, the Scientific Assessment Panel, and the Environmental Effects Assessment Panel, all of which provide the knowledge needed to examine and review the most recent scientific breakthroughs. Countries recognised two groups of parties when drafting the Protocol: Article 2 and Article 5 parties. The former refers to parties with the financial and technical means to influence changes in ozone-depleting substance usage and production (ODS). The latter are “developing countries” who require assistance in completing their duties and lack the appropriate economic and technical resources. The Protocol intended to ensure that all countries were able to comply with their obligations to safeguard the ozone layer by recognising these “common but differentiated responsibilities” and by establishing the Multilateral Fund to help provide financial resources to address these insufficiencies. Parties also defined distinct production and consumption phase-out and phase-down schedules for ODS. All parties’ unique situations are recognised and addressed through these two interventions, resulting in a more level playing field. These measures have also helped to ensure that all parties are working toward the same goal of eliminating ODS.

The business community has also played a crucial role in the development of the project. Following the discovery of the harm that ODS can cause to the ozone layer and the publication of the first holistic scientific assessment of the issue, DuPont, the leading CFC manufacturer at the time, called for the phase-out of CFCs and committed to it, closing their last manufacturing facility in 1999. As the Protocol’s amendments have been added, more corporations have joined in to help meet the Protocol’s duties. For example, the National Fire Protection Association conducted research on behalf of the industry in the late 1980s to develop low-ODS alternatives to halons. Daikin has recently made patents for technology that uses low-ozone-depleting potential chemicals available for free. Coca-Cola declared its ambition to make new coolers and vending machines HFC-free by 2015 in the run-up to the approval of the Kigali Amendment, which tackles hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

Finally, political will has been critical in achieving worldwide agreement on required action. Many governments took immediate national action after learning of the ozone hole. For example, the United States outlawed the use of CFCs in aerosols that were not strictly necessary; Sweden, Norway, and Denmark barred the use of CFCs in propellants; and the Netherlands required warning signs on all goods. Amendments to include additional regulations, particularly the Kigali Amendment to address HFCs, and the establishment of the Multilateral Fund only serve to highlight the political will that has aided in the achievement of this triumph.

While CFCs are well recognised for their ozone-depleting properties, they also contribute to climate change by causing significant global warming. As a result of phasing out these compounds, the Protocol has had considerable climate co-benefits; greenhouse gas emissions have fallen as a result. In 2010, emissions reductions attributable to the Montreal Protocol varied from 9.7 to 12.5 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent or around five to six times the Kyoto Protocol target. With the passage and implementation of the Kigali Amendment, these climate co-benefits have only been amplified. HFCs are largely employed in air-conditioning systems, where they have supplanted HCFCs, which were introduced to the Protocol’s control mechanisms under the Copenhagen Amendment in 1992. Except for the fact that the HFC “issue” was generated by the phase-out of other ODS, governments are now embarking on a route to reduce the use of substances that do not ordinarily fall under the scope of the Protocol. Indeed, the adoption Kigali Amendment might have a significant climate impact, where the world can limit to 0.4°C of global warming by 2100.

Hence, the Vienna Convention, the Montreal Protocol, and the Kigali Amendment establish a global policy framework for the ozone layer and climate protection. Many economic and technological sectors have had to undergo significant adjustments as a result of the policies’ implementation. As a result, the fact that 198 nations have ratified the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol, it demonstrates the ability of a few powerful states to act as catalysts for action.

India’s Stand in Ozone Diplomacy

On June 19, 1991, India ratified the Vienna Convention, and on September 17, 1992, it ratified the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. India was classified as a party operating under paragraph-1, Article-5 of the Montreal Protocol because its annual calculated consumption of controlled substances listed in Annex-A was less than 0.3 kg per capita. As a result, India was eligible for technical and economic assistance, including technology transfer, through the Montreal Protocol’s financial mechanism.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, established a Task Force in 1991, prior to India’s accession to the Montreal Protocol, to develop a national strategy and action plan for the phase-out of controlled substances under the Montreal Protocol and the adoption of substitute substances and related technologies. Three subcommittees were formed to look into this issue for three different industries: refrigeration and air conditioning, firefighting and electronics, and foams and aerosols. The reports of the three sub-committees were included in the Task Force’s final report, which served as the foundation for formulating India’s Country Program. Then, the Ministry established six industry sectoral groupings in June 1993, representing the six industrial sectors that consume ODS, namely Aerosols, Foams, Firefighting (Halons), Solvents, Refrigeration & Air Conditioning, and ODS Producers. These sectoral committees were tasked with producing sectoral studies on the status of ODS consumption (and production) in their respective industries, as well as an inventory of ODS-consuming businesses, plans, strategies, and estimated phase-out costs. The sectoral reports served as a key source of information for the Country Programme document. Furthermore, the Ministry of Environment and Forests established an Inter-Ministerial Group comprised of thirteen ministries for the purpose of reviewing and facilitating Country Programme preparation operations. The aggregate Country Programme was created and finished through an adaptive and collaborative process that included sectoral meetings followed by two national country programme workshops. With the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), and representatives from various ministries, industries, and scientific institutions, India’s Country Programme for the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol was prepared and finalised in August 1993. The Country Programme was presented to and approved by the 16th Meeting of the Executive Committee of the Multilateral Fund for Montreal Protocol Implementation in November 1993.

Since the approval of India’s original Country Programme for the Phase-out of Ozone Depleting Substances in 1993, India has achieved tremendous progress in limiting the production and consumption of ODS. The objectives of the Country Programme Update are to assess the original Country Programme’s implementation, along with insights and assessment acquired, provide an update on ODS phase-out and consumption trends, non-ODS technology conversions in the industrial sectors and their relationship to policy and regulatory measures, and provide updates on government initiatives and actions to control and monitor ODS use. The Country Programme Update also includes a schedule and action plan for implementing compliance measures that will lead to complete ODS phase-out, as well as an evaluation of ongoing strategies and performance-based agreements for addressing the phase-out of remaining ODS production and consumption, annual ODS phase-out milestones, and planned government actions for monitoring and controlling ODS use. Moreover, the study addresses upcoming difficulties, such as India’s sensitivity to HCFC phase-out, service tail impact, and ODS feedstock use, among others. India requested funds under the Montreal Protocol for the drafting of their Country Programme Update, which was accepted during the Multilateral Fund’s 36th Executive Committee Meeting in March 2002, with UNDP serving as the implementing agency. A desk assessment of ODS production and consumption patterns over the last 12 years was done in preparation for the Country Programme Update. In addition, a thorough examination of project implementation for ODS phase-out in production and consumption, as well as sector plans, was conducted.

Ultimately, India has made tremendous progress in regulating the production and consumption of ODS in the twelve years after the approval of its original Country Programme for Phase-out of Ozone Depleting Substances in 1993. The initial Country Programme did not define measurable targets for the phase-out of ODS but instead offered demand scenarios that were unconstrained. From a 1991 consumption level of 10,370 MT of ODS (Annex-A, Group I, II, & Annex-B Group II & III), unrestricted demand was expected to reach to 96,000 MT by 2005. By the end of 2004, the actual use of these compounds was only around 9,000 MT per year, with Halons (Annex-A Group-II) and Methyl Chloroform (Annex-B Group-III) being phased out completely. This was accomplished with the help of the Multilateral Fund’s technical and financial aid, as well as proactive policy efforts by the Indian government.

With the strategic and methodological phase out and proper implementation of the Montreal Protocol, India stepped further, when the Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has approved the ratification of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer by India. It was adopted by the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on October 28, 2016, at the 28th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol held in Kigali, Rwanda, for phase down of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). By 2023, a national strategy for phasing down hydrofluorocarbons in accordance with the applicable phase down timetable for India would be created, following the necessary consultation with all industry players and by mid-2024, amendments to the existing law framework, the Ozone Depleting Substances (Regulation and Management) Rules, will be completed to enable for proper control of hydrofluorocarbon production and consumption in order to achieve conformity with the Kigali Amendment. From 2032 onwards, India will phase down HFCs in four stages, with a total reduction of 10% in 2032, 20% in 2037, 30% in 2042, and 85% in 2047.

Initiatives Taken to Curb the Depletion

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has been recognised by the Indian government as the national coordinating agency for the Montreal Protocol implementation. The Ministry of Environment and Forests’ objectives and responsibilities as the designated national authority include notification of Montreal Protocol regulations, challenges related to international cooperation, maintaining and managing data on ODS production, imports, exports, and utilisation, monitoring Montreal Protocol activities, and interacting with other line ministries on technical and financial matters pertaining to implementation. Within the Ministry of Environment and Forests, a specific directorate (Ozone Cell) was established to manage and coordinate India’s compliance of the Montreal Protocol. The Ozone Cell’s efforts are aided in part by the UNDP-led Institutional Strengthening Project. With Cabinet agreement, the Ministry of Environment and Forests established an Empowered Steering Committee (ESC), an apex body charged with formulating and reviewing policy actions for Montreal Protocol implementation. Three standing committees advise the ESC on technology and finance, small-scale industries, and monitoring and evaluation.

 In February 2002, the Ozone Cell formed a Project Management Unit (PMU) to oversee the phase-out of CFCs in the manufacturing sector. In July 2002, the Unit was re-registered as the “Project Management Unit for the Phase Out of Ozone Depleting Substances” in order to broaden the area of tasks it could carry out. Implementation and review Info 1of ODS phase-out plans, assisting the Ozone Cell in monitoring and implementing ODS phase-out activities, monitoring the production quota and export licencing systems, coordination of training, seminars, and awareness activities for various stakeholders, and so on are among the PMU’s responsibilities. Even the Government of India formulated the draft ODS regulations known as the Ozone Depleting Substances Rules, which were published in the Gazette of India in 1998 for public comments and also circulated in the industry for advance intimation and comments, in the exercise of the powers conferred under sections 6, 8 and 29 of the Environment Protection Act of 1986. These have been duly notified and have been in force since January 2000. Subsequently, since 1993 the Ozone Cell has actively pushed information distribution, public awareness, and outreach programmes to aid in the phase-out of ODS.

From August 1, 2008, India has aggressively phased out the manufacturing and consumption of CFCs, with the exception of use in Metered Dose Inhalers (MDIs) for the treatment of Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). As a result, CFCs in MDIs have been phased out as of December 2012. As of January 1, 2010, India has totally phased out the production and consumption of CTC and halons. Currently, the Ozone Cell is working to phase out the production and use of the next category of chemicals, hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), according to the Montreal Protocol’s expedited phase-out schedule.

Ozone Regime in Ensuring Life

Governments have taken significant actions to safeguard life on Earth and, in some ways, “reset” the ozone layer by successfully implementing the Montreal Protocol. The Protocol’s management mechanisms will, in reality, restore the ozone layer to levels seen prior to 1980. The ozone layer should entirely regenerate across most of the northern hemisphere and mid-latitudes by the 2030s, over the southern hemisphere by the 2050s, and above Antarctica later this century, according to the World Meteorological Organization (2019). This, together with the added benefit of climatic co-benefits, may be able to assist in addressing some of the world’s many challenges.

Despite the Montreal Protocol’s achievements thus far, more work remains. Notwithstanding the fact that the majority of ODS are being phased out, the Montreal Protocol nevertheless allows for the production and use of small amounts of ODS for specific uses. Alternatives to these applications that are both cost-effective and efficient must be created. Even though environmentally favourable alternatives exist, the usage of HFCs persists. Additional measures to control the use and emissions of HFCs must be adopted under the Montreal Protocol. Furthermore, considerable amounts of ODS can still be found in ancient refrigeration and air conditioning equipment.

The ozone layer has played a critical role in ensuring that life on Earth has remained largely unaffected. This has happened despite the issue’s intangibility—ozone depletion and its long-term consequences being less visible than other environmental crises like overfishing or marine pollution. Despite this obstacle, the evidence has been well disseminated and unmistakable: continuing unregulated ODS usage will have catastrophic consequences for the planet’s health and that of all living species, including humans. The diplomatic stance, especially Montreal Protocol, is an exemplary example of a successful multinational environmental pact. Operating for nearly three decades at the crossroads of research, diplomacy, and the business sector indicates that the paradigm works, especially when ODS substitutes are available. This gives optimism that other pressing environmental challenges can be resolved quickly and amicably, especially if all parties involved cooperate.


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