Ozone layer: The fact that environment influences terrestrial life is readily apparent. At the same time, it is also clear that humans and other constituents of the biosphere affect environment significantly.
Human activities during the last century involving particularly landscape modification, resource exploitation and effluent flow have reached sufficient magnitude as to bring unpredictable effects on eco-system. These anthropogenic changes have raised many serious global environmental issues, particularly the destruction of earth’s protective stratospheric ozone layer by man-made chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons (H), carbon-tetrachloride (CTC), 1,1,1-Trichloro-ethane (TCA) and methyl bromide.
Why the ozone layer is vital to life on earth?
The ozone layer is a protective shield that blocks the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays from reaching the earth’s surface. However, the ozone layer is destroyed by man-made chemicals known as ozone-depleting substances (ODS). Scientific research has proved that the natural balance of stratospheric ozone has been damaged by the production and release into the atmosphere of ODS, (CFC, H, CTCand methyl bromide). These substances are found in:
- Air conditioners
- Fire extinguishers
- Agricultural fumigants
- Solvents for cleaning electronic equipment
Prolonged exposure to UV radiation is linked to skin cancer, genetic damage and immune system suppression in living organisms, and reduced productivity in agricultural crops and the food chain. The Montreal Protocol came into force in 1989 and set mandatory targets for phasing out the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances (ODS). The Montreal Protocol is the first international treaty to be now ratified by all the 197-member countries of the international community. By working together all countries have helped reduce the amount of ODS released into the atmosphere. Scientists predict that if the international community continues to comply with the Montreal Protocol, the ozone layer should fully recover between 2050 and 2065. Without coordinated international action the earth’s protective layer of ozone would almost certainly have been severely damaged.
Pakistan and the Ozone Issue
The current figures depict that Pakistan’s share in CFCs emission, is extremely meagre. Pakistan does not produce CFCs. Her annual import is 3000 tones. The per capita use of CFCs is only 0.027 kg and her contribution in the global context is practically zero. Even the futuristic estimates of increase in the local use of ODS shall not rise and according to a careful analysis, beyond 5-15% by the year 2030. In order to enforce the countrywide programme for the phase out of ODS, Pakistan will have to spend enormous amounts in addition to the grants advanced to her under the provisions of Montreal Protocol. Such expenditure is likely to weigh heavily on an already crisis-ridden economy.
Since the adoption of the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol in December 1992, Ministry of Environment in Pakistan has been making steady progress in policy making to protect the stratospheric ozone depletion. Recently, the first step that was taken by the Environment and Urban Affair Division (EUAD) was the establishment of a separate section E 3. Its main objective is to deal with the various problems regarding the reduction in use of ozone depleting substances in Pakistan. E 3 will aim at making policies and will try to implement the control measures that are set by the international conventions. E3 manifesto also includes administrative guidance to the relevant industries in Pakistan. Its major responsibilities include:
- Investigation and study of the extent of use of ozone depleting substances in Pakistan such as total output of the industries which are using ODS as their sole material, total consumption of these substances and the amount imported from other countries.
- To promote activities for phasing-out of the ozone depleting substances in the industrial sector.
- To provide relevant information to the policy makers. Currently, E 3 is in a phase of conducting a countrywide survey for an overview of the extent of use of ozone depleting substances, import and the present demand of the industrial sector in Pakistan.
Protecting the ozone layer also protects the climate
The reduction in ozone-depleting substances (ODS) has also had beneficial side effects. Ozone-depleting substances are also very potent greenhouse gases, contributing to the phenomenon as other substances widely known to have a greenhouse effect like carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Therefore, by reducing emissions of ozone-depleting substances, the Montreal Protocol has protected both the ozone layer and the climate at the same time.
The magnitude of this benefit is substantial. The reduction in ODS emissions expected as a result of compliance with the Montreal Protocol has been estimated globally at 10-12 giga-tonnes of CO2-equivalent between 1985 and 2010. In contrast, the reduction target of greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol (assuming full compliance by all developed countries) is estimated at 1-2 giga-tonnes of CO2-equivalent on average per year between 2008 and 2012, compared to base-year emissions. The phasing out of climate-changing ODS under the Montreal Protocol has therefore avoided greenhouse gas emissions by an amount 5-6 times larger than the target of the Kyoto Protocol for 2008-2012.
What people can do to help protect the ozone layer?
We have a role to play to avoid any catastrophic outcomes. Each one of us is expected to follow the following guidelines.
- Prefer to walk and as far as possible.
- Limit private vehicle driving-A very easy way to control ozone depletion would be to limit or reduce the amount of driving as vehicular emissions eventually result in smog which is a culprit in the deterioration of the ozone layer.
- Car-pooling, taking public transport, walking, using a bicycle would limit the usage of individual transportation.
- Adopt a great option to switch to cars/vehicles that have a hybrid or electric zero-emission engine.
- Usage of eco-friendly (toxic-free and made of natural ingredients) and natural cleaning products for household chores is a great way to prevent ozone depletion. This is because many of these cleaning agents contain toxic chemicals that interfere with the ozone layer.
- Avoid using pesticides that may be an easy solution for getting rid of weed, but are harmful for the ozone layer. The best solution for this would be to try using natural remedies, rather than heading out for pesticides.
- Developing stringent regulations for rocket launchers. A lot of rocket launchers are happening the world over without consideration of the fact that it can damage the ozone layer if it is not regulated soon. At present, the global rocket launches do not contribute hugely to ozone layer depletion.
- Banning the use of dangerous nitrous oxide
- Electronic appliances emit CFC even when they are not in use. So always unplug the electronic instruments when they are not in use.
- Prefer buying energy-efficient appliances like fluorescent bulbs.
- Plant trees, as they absorb UV rays greatly and thus protect the environment.
- Replace your old refrigerators and air conditioners as they are the major contributors of CFC in the atmosphere.
The authors are from Department of Environmental Sciences, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Vehari-Pakistan.