Yesterday September 16 was a vital day for the world but unfortunately most people were not even aware of it though at one point it meant life or death for millions of people. In 1994, the United Nation’s General Assembly proclaimed September 16 as the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer. It marked the date of the signing, in 1987, of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.
The ozone layer, a fragile shield of gas, protects the Earth from the harmful portion of the rays of the sun, thus helping preserve life on the planet. The phase-out of controlled uses of ozone depleting substances and the related reductions have not only helped protect the ozone layer for this and future generations, but have also contributed significantly to global efforts to address climate change. Furthermore, it has protected human health and ecosystems by limiting the harmful ultraviolet radiation from reaching the earth, the UN says.
The theme for this year’s International Ozone Day recognizes the collective efforts of the parties to the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol towards the restoration of the ozone layer over the past three decades and the global commitment to combat climate change. Researchers from the University of Leeds and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, have confirmed the first signs of an increase of ozone -- after the hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica was first detected in 1985.
Another study published by researchers from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says that the recovery is entirely due to political determination to phase out the man-made Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases destroying ozone.
According to experts, CFCs once described as miracle chemicals, cause the breakdown of the ozone layer. CFCs have no significant natural sources. They were first manufactured in the 1930s, and industries soon found a wide variety of applications for them due to their chemical unreactivity and heat-absorbing properties. CFCs have been used as refrigerants, in air conditioners and refrigerators, in aerosol spray cans, in manufacturing foams as industrial solvents, and as cleaning agents in the manufacture of electronics. Sri Lanka also widely use these. Once the U.S. chemical industry gave them the trade name of “Freons,” and the term had since become a household word.
In Sri Lanka when Ozone-friendly, CFC free labels started to appear in the early ’90s on products such as refrigerators, to many, it seemed just another marketing strategy but these ozone-friendly alternatives may save lives. Being a Third World country, one might have thought that Sri Lanka would lag behind in achieving such international commitment. But on the contrary, the National Ozone Unit (NOU) of Sri Lanka has driven all parties to achieve the Montreal targets ahead of the allotted time. In recognition of its efforts, the NOU received the award for Best Implementers of the Montreal Protocol in 2007 in Montreal in Canada during ceremonies to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Protocol.
According to the United Nations Development Programme’s report on Sri Lanka, CFCs were replaced by the less damaging hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which is now being systematically replaced by hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Though HFCs do not contribute to ozone depletion, they are potent greenhouse gases contributing to global warming and climate change. Over the last 10 years Sri Lanka has been increasingly affected by a number of floods, droughts, landslides, and occasional cyclones and these are projected to worsen with climate change.
To reduce air pollution we need to restrict the use of fossil fuels mainly petrol or diesel in the increasing number of vehicles in Sri Lanka. Public transport needs to be streamlined and made comfortable so that more people will use it instead of private vehicles and thus reduce the unbearable traffic congestion also. In addition, with incentives from the government, more people also need to turn to renewable sources of energy such as domestic solar panels which are being offered at concessionary terms. In these and other ways, patriotic citizens will be helping Sri Lanka not only to ratify but also to implement the December 2015 Paris Agreement to reduce global warming.