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lead.jpg (22302 bytes)    Volume 3 
   Number 3
   28 July 1998 

PROTECTION OF THE OZONE LAYER - A Success story of UNEP
K.M. Sarma
Executive Secretary for the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol, UNEP, Nairobi


Background

The issue of depletion of the ozone layer was one of the first global environmental emergencies faced by UNEP. The stratospheric ozone layer protects the earth from excessive UV-B radiation from the sun. The atmosphere next to earth up to about 10 kilometres is called troposphere and stratosphere is above the troposphere, up to about 50 kilometres. The thin layer of ozone has been formed in the stratosphere by the action of solar radiation on normal oxygen. It is continuously formed and destroyed through natural processes leading to a natural balance.

This ozone layer filters out excessive ultra-violet radiation from the sun and protects all life on earth from adverse effects. Its depletion has many adverse effects of increase in skin cancers and eye-cataracts, loss of immunity, lesser productivity of plants, deterioration of plastics etc.

Until the scientific discoveries in the 1970's, the ozone layer was considered to be a feature that naturally preserved itself. The pioneering work of Prof. Paul Crutzen in 1970 pointed to the possibility of nitrogen oxides from fertilizers and from supersonic aircraft affecting the ozone layer adversely. In 1974, Professors Rowland and Molina identified CFCs as ozone destroyers. Subsequent research has amply confirmed the significant role of CFCs in destroying the stratospheric ozone. In 1995, these three scientists received the Nobel prize for chemistry for their pioneering work. CFCs are very versatile chemicals invented in 1928 and used in many applications such as refrigeration, air conditioning, firefighting, metal cleaning, aerosols, etc. Their consumption was very small until the 1970's, but increased rapidly to a million tonnes in 1986. Most of the consumption was in industrialized countries but the developing countries, with their increasing populations and economic growth, were catching up and would have in time increased their consumption dramatically.

UNEP took up the issue of ozone depletion in 1976 and adopted a simple but effective approach. It first concentrated on assessment of the problem by convening a meeting of experts on the ozone layer in 1977. On the recommendation of this meeting, UNEP set up a Coordinating Committee of the Ozone Layer (CCOL) in cooperation with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). CCOL consisted of the leading experts of the world on the ozone layer.

Over the next ten years, this committee provided regular assessments of the state of the ozone layer and coordinated further research. These reports attracted international interest among the people and the Governments and UNEP provided the framework for harnessing this interest to promote international action. It marshalled the information, options and legal expertise needed for decision making. This process led to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in 1985 and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in 1987.

The Protocol of 1987 arrived at a time when industry representatives claimed that the theories of ozone depletion were mere speculation. Each country had its own industrial interest uppermost in their minds. The resulting control measures on the ozone depleting chemicals were very weak, a 50% cut in CFCs and a freeze of halons by the year 2000. Scientific analysis proved even then that these steps were grossly inadequate. What saved the Protocol were two unique features. One was a grace period of 10 years for developing countries, with a view to attracting them to join the process, in addition to a provision for assistance, since it was realized that a cooperative effort of all the countries was necessary to save the ozone layer. The second unique feature was the very strong role given to science and technology in Article 6, which mandated periodic assessments regarding the ozone layer and response from the Parties to these assessments. Scientific information integrated into the negotiation process continuously. At every stage of negotiation, countries moved forward one step at a time based on the assessment, knowing fully well that the next assessments could recommend more steps.

These agreements followed a step-by-step approach and enabled the Governments to progress in step with the advice of scientists and technologists. What started as a general intent in 1985 through the Vienna Convention, progressed to a partial phase-out of some substances in 1987 with the Montreal Protocol. Total phase-out of those and even more substances in 1990 with London Amendment, which resulted from the 1989 assessment. A dramatic acceleration of phase-out and inclusion of control measures for new chemicals, HCFCs and methyl bromide came in 1992 in Copenhagen. This resulted from the 1991 assessment, in step with the discovery of the Antarctic " ozone hole" in 1985, further confirmations of ozone depletion, and emergence of viable alternatives to the Ozone-depleting chemicals. The 1995 adjustments followed the 1994 assessments. The 1997 adjustments and amendment celebrated ten years of the Protocol.

As of 30 June 1998, the Ozone Agreements had been ratified as follows:

  • Vienna Convention - 166 Parties

  • Montreal Protocol - 165 Parties

  • London Amendment - 120 Parties

  • Copenhagen Amendment - 79 Parties

At present there are 95 chemicals controlled by the Protocol:

Chlorofluorocarbons

  • CFCs, Halons, Hydrobromofluorocarbons

  • HBFCs, Other fully halogenated CFCs, Carbon tetrachloride, 1,1,1 trichloroethane

  • methyl-chloroform,

Hydrochlorofluorocarbons

  • HCFCs, Hydrobromoflourocarbons

  • HBFCs and Methyl Bromide.

Control measures for the chemicals

Developed countries - Phase-out of halons by 1994. Phase-out of CFCs, carbon tetrachloride, methyl chloroform and HBFCs by 1996. Phase-out of Methyl Bromide by 2005. Phase-out of HCFCs by 2030.

Developing countries - Phase-out of HBFCs by 1996. Phase-out of CFCs, Halons and Carbon tetrachloride by 2010. Methyl Chloroform and Methyl Bromide by 2015. HCFCs by 2040.

Multilateral Fund for Developing Countries

The Parties to the Montreal Protocol established at their second meeting (June 1990) a Financial Mechanism, which included a Multilateral Fund. The purpose of the Multilateral Fund is to enable developing countries to implement their commitments under the Montreal Protocol. Only the non-Article 5 (developed) Parties contribute to the Fund. The Fund pays the agreed incremental costs to be incurred by developing countries for the phase-out of their ozone-depleting substances (ODS) consumption and production. An Executive Committee of 14 countries, chosen by the Parties every year, administers it. Seven representatives come from developing countries and seven from developed countries.

The UNDP, UNEP, UNIDO and the World Bank are the Implementing Agencies of the Fund. UNEP maintains a clearinghouse of information and assists in training, setting up national ozone units, preparation of country programmes, networking and preparation of refrigerant, management plans. It has assisted over 100 countries so far. The other implementing agencies plan and implement investment projects to phase-out ODS.

The main achievements of the Multilateral Fund so far are:

  • Nearly 90% of the contributions due have been paid. A large portion of outstanding contributions are from countries recently emerged as economies in transition;

  • The Executive Committee has approved 86 country programmes, covering most of the production and the consumption of controlled substances of developing countries;

  • So far, the Executive Committee has approved more than 2,000 projects and activities with a planned phase-out of more than half of the consumption of developing countries and allocated US$730 million for their implementation in 111 Article 5 countries;

  • The Committee has allocated more than US$18 million for setting up country ozone focal offices, US$68 million for technical assistance and training programmes and US$39 million for the preparation of country programmes and project proposals

Global Environment Facility (GEF)

GEF had been established by the world community to assist the developing countries on four global environmental issues—ozone depletion, climate change, biodiversity and international waters. GEF assists projects and activities for phasing-out ODS in Central and Eastern European countries and countries of former USSR with economies in transition that are not eligible for assistance from the Multilateral Fund since they are not recognized as developing countries. These countries have experienced many problems in their transition to market economy and found it difficult to implement the Protocol. Nearly US$130 million has been sanctioned by GEF to assist Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine to implement the Protocol. The Implementing Agencies of GEF projects are UNDP, UNEP and the World Bank.

Results of the Protocol

The results of the Protocol in the last ten years have been startlingly good and hailed by many as a shining example for solving other global environmental problems. The total consumption of CFCs was about 1.1 million tonnes in 1986. By 1996, this was reduced to about 160,000 tonnes. The consumption of the industrialized countries, which stood at about a million tonnes in 1986, has been completely phased out but for a consumption of 11,000 tonnes for essential uses approved by the Parties. The developing countries have increased their consumption by about 30 per cent in the last 10 years, as permitted by the Protocol. However, considering the high rates of economic growth in many of the developing countries recently, the Multilateral Fund has succeeded in preventing undue rise in the consumption of CFCs. Developing countries will begin the implementation of their control measures in July 1999 and phase-out thereafter. Of the 120 developing countries, about 20 account for more than 90 per cent of the consumption of developing countries. Of these 20, key countries like Argentina, Chile, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Syrian Arab Republic, Thailand and Venezuela started their reduction of consumption in 1996.

The Scientific and technological assessment process of the Protocol is organized to provide objective and foolproof indicators for the success of the Protocol. The members of the three Panels—the scientific, the environmental effects and the technology and economic—are selected by the Parties to reflect expertise mainly and geographical balance only to extent expertise was available; recognizing that the ozone science and technologies are concentrated in the industrialized countries. The Panel members were allowed to co-opt experts as needed to advise them in their assessment. Governments can nominate members to the Committees, but the Panel members chose them only if the particular expertise was in need. The term of the members of the Panels and Committees is indefinite. They could be removed by the Parties (and, in the case of Committee members, by the Panels) for violating the prescribed code of conduct. Each member of the Panel or Committee should serve in his/her personal capacity and not represent his/her employer or any other interest. They should not take advantage of their position to obtain any favors. Their reports were factual and gave options to the Parties.

Each of their reports in 1989, 1991, 1994 analyzed all the data available throughout the world on the abundance of ozone depleting chemicals in the atmosphere, the extent of ozone depletion above different parts of the world. UV-B radiation, adverse impacts of ozone depletion, technological development of alternatives to CFCs, economic feasibility of alternatives and progress of adoption of alternatives in various sectors. Each of the assessments also analyzed options to minimize the ozone depletion and also the impact of alternatives on environment, e.g. impact on global warming. The Panels use their data to judge the effectiveness of their models as well as of the decisions taken by the Parties to the Protocol and, more importantly, the implementation of these decisions. This is rather a unique case of an international agreement having clear indicators for its success and continuous measurement of these indicators.

The most recent scientific assessment brought out many interesting indicators:

  • The total combined abundance of ozone-depleting compounds in the lower atmosphere peaked in about 1994 and is now slowly declining. Total chlorine is declining, but total bromine is still increasing.

  • The observed abundance of the substitutes for the CFCs is increasing.

  • The combined abundance of stratospheric chlorine and bromine is expected to peak before the year 2000.

  • The rate of decline in stratospheric ozone at mid-latitudes has slowed; hence, the projections of ozone loss made in the 1994 Assessment are larger than that has actually occurred.

  • The springtime Antarctic ozone hole continues unabated.

  • The late-winter/spring ozone values in the Arctic were unusually low in six out of the last nine years, the six being years that are characterized by unusually cold and protracted stratospheric winters.

  • The understanding of the relation between increasing surface UV-B radiation and decreasing column ozone has been further strengthened by ground-based observations, and new developed satellite methods show promise for establishing global trends in UV radiation.

  • Stratospheric ozone losses have caused a cooling of the global lower stratosphere and global-average negative radiative forcing of the climate system.

  • Based on past emissions of ozone-depleting substances and a projection of the maximum allowances under the Montreal Protocol into the future, the maximum ozone depletion is estimated to lie within the current decade or the next two decades, but its identification and the evidence for the recovery of the ozone layer lie still further ahead.

What would have happened without the Montreal Protocol?

One measure of success of the Montreal Protocol and its subsequent Amendments and Adjustments, according to the Assessment, is the forecast of "the world that was avoided" by the Protocol:

  • The abundance of ozone-depleting gases in 2050, the approximate time at which the ozone layer is now projected to recover to pre-1980 levels, would be at least 17 ppb of equivalent effective chlorine (this is based on the conservative assumption of a 3% per annual growth in ozone-depleting gases) which is about five times larger than today's value;

  • Ozone depletion would be at least 50% at mid-latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere and 70% at mid-latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, about 10 times larger than today; and

  • Surface UV-B radiation would at least double at mid-latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere and quadruple at mid-latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere compared to an unperturbed atmosphere. This compares to the current increases of 5% and 8% in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, respectively, since 1980.

Furthermore, all of the above impacts would have continued to grow in the years beyond 2050. It is important to note that while the provisions of the original Montreal Protocol in 1987 would have lowered the above growth rates, recovery (i.e., an improving situation) would have been impossible without the Amendments and Adjustments (London, 1990; Copenhagen, 1992; and Vienna, 1995).

The implications of this increased ozone depletion would have been horrendous. There would have been nearly 19 million cases more of non-melanoma skin cancer up to the year 2060 and 3 million more cases up to 2030. There would have been nearly 1.5 million more cases of melanoma skin cancer by the year 2060. The number of eye cataracts would have increased by about 130 million cases by the year 2060, about 50 per cent of this in developing countries. There are many other unquantifiable effects such as loss of immunity, adverse impact on animals, lower productivity of crops, damage to aquatic eco-systems including fishing and degradation of plastics. A study by the Government of Canada calculated that while the world would ultimately spend many billions of dollars changing to ozone-safe technologies, the benefits would exceed these costs many times.

Future challenges

While the Protocol has been hailed as an extraordinary success so far, there is no room for complacency. There are still challenges to be faced.

Non-Parties

There are many Parties who have not ratified the London and Copenhagen Amendments, even though they supported adoption of these amendments. This implies that many countries are still not formally committed to the phase-out of HCFCs and methyl bromide.

Countries with economies in transition

The implementation of the Protocol from 1989 has unfortunately coincided with massive changes in the political and economic systems of the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. Until recently, the instability in these countries made implementation very difficult. As a result, the Russian Federation and others admitted in 1996 that they would be unable to follow the phase-out timetable. They have, however, promised to complete the phase-out by the year 2000, if sufficient assistance is forthcoming. The Parties to the Protocol considered non-compliance by these countries and recommended assistance by the Global Environment Facility, which has so far disbursed $130 million to 12 countries in this region. These countries accounted for a consumption of about 150,000 tonnes in 1986. It has fallen significantly to about 20,000 tonnes in 1996. It is hoped that these countries will complete their phase-out by the year 2000.

Illegal trade in CFCs

A concern that arose in the last few years is illegal trade. There are many factors that contribute to this problem. All new CFCs are now banned in all the industrialized countries. However, millions of pieces of equipment that use CFCs are still in service. Alternatives have been developed to service this equipment (car air-conditioners, etc.) whenever CFCs leak out. However, some consumers consider the alternatives costlier. Also, the Parties to the Protocol have permitted the use and trade of recycled CFCs to maintain the existing equipment and it is difficult to distinguish between new and recycled CFCs. The production of CFCs is continuing in many countries. In industrialized countries, the production is continuing to meet their essential uses and to supply developing countries, as permitted by the Protocol. The developing countries are allowed to produce subject to controls only from 1 July 1999. Hence, they have increased their production. Countries such as the Russian Federation are continuing production in non-compliance with the Protocol but have promised to phase-out by the year 2000. In the US, the market price of CFCs is very high due to a high tax. All these factors contributed to some traders illegally exporting new CFCs to the industrialized countries either in the guise of recycled substances or in the guise of export to developing countries. The profits are said to be higher than those obtained by exporting cocaine. The total illegal trade cannot be estimated accurately but, is perhaps in the region of about 30,000 tonnes.

The Parties have realized the seriousness of this problem. Countries such as the US are taking stringent action against these smugglers by imprisoning them and fining them heavily. The European Union recently introduced tough controls. The Parties have also mandated that each Party should have a Licensing System to import or export CFCs. This makes it easy for the Secretariat to compare the figures and inform governments regarding the source of illegal CFCs. The World Bank is also raising $25 million from donors to buy off the production facilities in the Russian Federation and to close them down by the year 2000. This problem is one that will be cured by the closure of the factories throughout the world but, meanwhile, the Parties and the Secretariat will take all possible steps to minimize illegal trade.

Methyl bromide

Methyl bromide is an insecticide used for fumigation of soils structures and storage. Most of the use is in soil fumigation for high value crops. This chemical, apart from being an ozone depleter has many other toxic properties. Some countries like the Netherlands have banned its use because of these other toxic properties. Its significance as an ozone depleter was brought out only in 1992 and the developed countries are committed to phase-out its consumption by 2005. The developing countries have accepted only in 1997 a phase-out date by the year 2015. The total world annual consumption of methyl bromide is about 70,000 tonnes, most of it in the industrialized countries. At present it is used only in a small number of countries and only in high value crops. However, only 80 countries have ratified the Copenhagen Amendment of 1992 that introduced controls of methyl bromide. The other countries of the world have not formally accepted controls on methyl bromide. There is considerable danger, therefore, that the consumption of methyl bromide could spread to more countries and more uses. The challenge before the Parties is to stop this in time. Many alternatives are emerging for methyl bromide in various uses and the Multilateral Fund has taken up a $30 million programme to demonstrate these alternatives in developing countries.

Implementation of Control Measures by Developing Countries

The Montreal Protocol allowed a grace period for developing countries in recognition of the fact that time will be needed for them to obtain and introduce alternative technologies. During this period they are allowed to increase their consumption to meet their basic domestic needs. They will have to implement the control measures from 1 July 1999. A number of countries, particularly in Asia and Latin America have been increasing their consumption in step with their high rates of economic growth. A time has come now for them to stop this increase and begin reversing the trend. The Multilateral Fund has been, and will be, of great help to these countries. It has to be remembered that the phase-out by the industrialized countries represents a phase-out only 20 per cent of the world population and that the ozone layer protection is assured only if the remaining 80 per cent of the world in developing countries follows suit. This is a crucial challenge for the next 10 years.

Kyoto Protocol - Implications for the Montreal Protocol

The halocarbons (CFCs) controlled by the Montreal Protocol, besides being ozone-depleters, are also greenhouse gases and contribute to global warming. However, the ozone depletion has an opposite impact and stratospheric ozone loss since 1980 may have offset about 30% of the global warming induced by all the greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides and halocarbons. On the other hand, the increase of greenhouse gases may slow down the recovery of the ozone layer.

Another important aspect is that Kyoto Protocol mandates reductions, by the industrialized countries, of a basket of six greenhouse gases that includes HFCs, now used as substitutes for CFCs by many countries in some applications such as automobile air conditioning. The HFCs have a Zero ozone depleting potential but a high global warming potential. The Montreal Protocol funds many HFC projects in developing countries in order to phase-out CFCs.

In his opening address to the recent meeting of the Open-ended Working Group of the Montreal Protocol, Klaus Töpfer, the Executive Director of UNEP, referred to these interconnections and advised the Parties to reflect on the implications. During the discussions, many Parties stressed the desirability of giving clear and timely guidance to industry on the issue of HFCs, rather than subject it to contradictory regulatory signals. The working Group requested the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel to consult the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA) of the Climate Change Convention on the issues involved. A draft proposal was also made for further consideration in the tenth meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in Cairo in November 1998.

Trade in Products relying on CFCs

A complaint frequently voiced by some developing countries is that used equipment relying on CFCs, such as refrigerators, are being increasingly exported to their countries by the industrialized countries where new models of CFC-free equipment have been introduced. The developing countries fear that this imported equipment will necessitate more imports of CFCs for their maintenance and thus interfere with the fulfillment of their obligations under the Montreal Protocol to phase-out CFCs. They would like exporting countries to regulate the exports of such used equipment. This issue has come up for discussion in the recent meeting of the Working Group. Some considered that even the exports of new equipment that relies on CFCs should be regulated. There was discussion of the application of GATT/ World Trade Organization rules in this regard. The matter will be further considered in the tenth meeting in Cairo.

Lessons of the Montreal Protocol

There are many lessons of the Montreal Protocol that can be applied to solving other global environmental issues.

The first lesson is the application of the "precautionary principle." When governments acted in 1985 and 1987 there had been no actual damage to human health proved to be caused by ozone depletion. However, governments heeded the advise of the scientists that if they wait longer for a 100 per cent proof, the ozone layer would have been destroyed to such an extent as to cause serious adverse consequences and these consequences would have continued for many decades. The lesson, therefore, is to take action in time to prevent damage rather than wait till the damage has been proved by which time the damage would have been great and irreversible.

The Protocol mandated specific timetables for every country to phase-out their profitable "wonder" chemicals. This signaled to industry that these chemicals have no future and led to development of alternatives quickly. This "technology forcing" accelerated the phase-out. The Protocol created markets for the alternatives.

Another important lesson of the Protocol is on how to act on issue when there is no scientific certainty. In 1987, there was considerable uncertainty about the extent of the ozone depletion, its adverse effects and availability of alternative technologies. The ozone-depleting chemicals were used in many industries and were considered irreplaceable. In order to deal with this uncertainty, governments took a small step first of a partial phase-out and involved the scientific community to advise them periodically on the further steps needed to protect the ozone layer and on the availability of alternate technologies. Four times so far in the last 10 years, the governments changed the Protocol in accordance with such scientific advice. For the first time, the scientific community has a front seat in environmental negotiations.

One more lesson of the Protocol is in promoting universal participation, including of the developing countries in the Protocol by recognizing "common and differentiated responsibility." It was realized early that it requires global participation to protect the ozone layer. While the developing countries had a small share of the consumption in 1986 (and, hence little responsibility for ozone layer depletion), their increasing consumption would have nullified the efforts of the industrialized countries to phase-out these chemicals. It was also realized that the developing countries may not have the skills, technologies or resources to implement the Protocol in time. Hence provision was made for a grace period, technology transfer and the Multilateral Fund. These steps resulted in almost all countries committing themselves to protection of the ozone layer.

Another lesson is the integration of science, economics and technology both in devising the control measures and in implementing them. The assessment panels of the Protocol with experts from all areas including industry have provided expertise to the Parties to take informed decisions. The involvement of industry ensured development of cheap and effective alternatives.

The evolution of the Protocol has proved the usefulness and indispensability of UNEP. UNEP provided the platform for countries with differing points of view to come together. It organized the scientific assessments, which not only identified the problem but also provided options to solve the problem. In the early 80's, even when Governments lost interest, UNEP persisted until consensus was achieved. It is continuing to work on the issue both as a Secretariat and as a clearinghouse for formation. Its activities help more than a hundred Governments to implement the Protocol.

The Ozone Secretariat web site can be found at http://www.unep.org/ozone/. For information via e-mail contact: ozoneinfo@unep.org

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