By Ranjan K Baruah
Many of us have heard of the ozone layer. The ozone hole bought many questions and challenges a few decades back. 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. Ozone is a special form of oxygen with the chemical formula O3. The oxygen we breathe and that is so vital to life on earth is O2. Following the publication of the findings of a British Antarctic Survey article in May 1985, the phenomenon of ozone depletion over Antarctica was referred to as the “ozone hole”, a phrase first attributed to Nobel Prize winner Sherwood Rowland.
One of the positive impacts after the ozone hole was more awareness on preservation of the layer. And the best part is 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.
This year is also celebrated as 35 years of the Vienna Convention and 35 years of global ozone layer protection. We cannot think of life on earth without sunlight and we know how the ozone layer protects us from deadly ultra violet rays. The ozone hole is caused by ozone-depleting gases used in aerosols and cooling, such as refrigerators and air-conditioners – was threatening to increase cases of skin cancer and cataracts, and damage plants, crops, and ecosystems.
In 1985, the world’s governments adopted the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. Under the Convention’s Montreal Protocol, governments, scientists and industry worked together to cut out 99 per cent of all ozone-depleting substances. Thanks to the Montreal Protocol, the ozone layer is healing and expected to return to pre-1980 values by mid-century. In support of the Protocol, the Kigali Amendment, which came into force in 2019, will work towards reducing hydrofluorocarbon (HFCs), greenhouse gases with powerful climate warming potential and damaging to the environment.
One of the important events organised around the world is World Ozone Day. It is held on September 16 around the world. This day or event shows that collective decisions and action, guided by science, are the only way to solve major global crises. In this year of the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought such social and economic hardship, the ozone treaties’ message of working together in harmony and for the collective good is more important than ever. The slogan of the day, ‘Ozone for life’, reminds us that not only is ozone crucial for life on Earth, but that we must continue to protect the ozone layer for future generations.
The Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer was adopted and signed by 28 countries, on 22 March 1985. In September 1987, this led to the drafting of The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 16 September the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, commemorating the date of the signing, in 1987, of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (resolution 49/114). On 16th September 2009, the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol became the first treaties in the history of the United Nations to achieve universal ratification. The Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer reached agreement at their 28th Meeting of the Parties on 15 October 2016 in Kigali, Rwanda to phase-down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations on his message on the occasion said that “as we look ahead to global recovery from the social and economic devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, we must commit to building stronger and more resilient societies. It is imperative that we put our efforts and investments into tackling climate change and protecting nature and the ecosystems that sustain us.” He also added that “the ozone treaties stand out as inspiring examples that show that, where political will prevails, there is little limit to what we can achieve in common cause. Let us take encouragement from how we have worked together to preserve the ozone layer and apply the same will to healing the planet and forging a brighter and more equitable future for all humanity.”
Together we can make a difference and our awareness and sustainable action will surely contribute towards the protection of the ozone layer. (With direct inputs from UN publication. Feedback may be sent to [email protected])