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Ozone layer recovery: Jury is still out, but verdict likely soon

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Recent studies show that new dreams driven by short-time achievements make us forget the real objective and purpose of long-term missions. The global environmental accord called The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is a case in point. Its key objective is to protect the stratospheric ozone layer that shields life on the Earth. Has that mission been achieved?

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The ozone layer is a protective screen about 8-50 kms from Earth’s surface. It filters out high-energy, destructive UV-rays from the Sun. After more than a decade of scientific postulations, vigorous studies and observations it was revealed that the ozone shield has been threatened by man-made chemicals, mainly chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and their emissions into the atmosphere.

Depletion of the ozone layer was considered a catastrophic risk to the life on the Earth.

In 1987, world leaders, after protracted negotiations under the UNEP, agreed that the way to protect the life-saving ozone layer was to phase-out production and consumption of CFCs, and nearly 100 other man-made ozone-depleting chemicals that travel up into the stratosphere. The Montreal Protocol was thus born and since then, has become a universally ratified treaty. All the member-states of UN are Parties to the Protocol.

Image result for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said in 2000 that the Montreal Protocol

The Protocol will celebrate its 30th Anniversary later this year in Montreal. Indeed, there are reasons to be upbeat. Ninety-eight per cent of the production of ozone-depleting chemicals has been shut down. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said in 2000 that the Montreal Protocol was “perhaps the single-most successful international agreement so far”. More recently in 2017, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, called it as ‘milestone for all people and our planet’

The numbers are astounding and overwhelming. Without the Protocol, we could have got sunburnt in five minutes. There would have been an additional 280 million cases of skin cancer, 1.5 million skin cancer deaths and 45 million cataracts in the US alone, according to the Environment Protection Agency.

If the impact due to loss of food production due to UV rays penetrating through the ozone layer and the weakening of human immune system is considered, one can say that Earth has avoided the possibility of a sixth extinction.

Last year, there were global headlines when all countries unanimously agreed to amend the Protocol to include the “phase-down” of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). That was an unprecedented decision because HFCs do not only deplete the ozone Layer — albeit in a much weaker way than CFCs — they have a dangerously high global warming potential.

Interestingly, they are also part of the six Green House Gases (GHGs) packaged in the Paris Climate Agreement that aims to control their emissions. The countries, in other words, decided to help the Paris Climate Agreement by using another international treaty — the Montreal Protocol. Many called it “surrogate mothering” by the countries.

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The reasons for this extraordinary “inter-treaty” intersect was that HFCs were mainly introduced to replace CFCs under the Montreal Protocol. In a way, the countries wanted to correct the inadvertent error they had committed by introducing HFCs. They rightly thought that all the successful armoury in the form of institutional and financing resources were accessible. Hence dreaming of conquering HFCs — albeit a new territory — was logical.

So, has the ozone layer being saved and is it on recovery mode?

One of the key factors to assess the success in its recovery is to measure the depth and extent of annual appearance of the “Ozone Hole” over Antarctica. Every spring (August to October), when the sun rays break out over the frozen continent, the chemical species riding on the tiny ice particles in the Antarctic vortex start destroying the ozone layer. This annual “dance festival” tells us the extent of the ozone hole’s recovery.

Flying over the lower end of the polar vortex recently in a DC-8 NASA aircraft loaded with 23 instruments, Paul A. Newman, the Agency’s Chief Scientist, measured the chemical radicals in the vertical column of atmosphere.

Newman said the NASA mission recorded that the 2017 ozone hole was unusually small and weak in depth. However, he was quick to add that “this weaker ozone hole is a result of year-to-year variability of the meteorology and it is still not known if it is an evidence of recovery because the meteorological variability masks the long-term projected trend”.

Variability is evidently having a last laugh.

In 2000, the hole had a record size. In 2002, it was half the size. In 2006, it was almost another record size. In 2012, it was second smallest. In 2016 it was again worse than average.

As per the latest 2014 UNEP-World Meteorological Organisation’s Scientific Assessment Panel report, the measured tropospheric concentrations of ozone depleting substances continue to decrease.

Susan Solomon, pioneer atmospheric scientist and Professor at MIT, stated in 2016 that we had succeeded in creating a situation for ozone layer recovery. The expected recovery is projected by the Science Assessment Panel by middle of this century.

I asked Dr Newman: “Tell me doctor, is the ozone layer finally recovering?”.

Quick came his response from the southern tip of Chile: “Ozone-depleting substances in the troposphere are decreasing. Chlorine and Bromine species in stratosphere are decreasing. On recovery of the Ozone Layer? Jury is still out, but we’re all pretty sure that they’ll soon render a verdict!”

(Rajendra Shende is Chairman, TERRE Policy Centre, IIT alumnus and former Director, UNEP. Views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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India

World Environment Day: India calls to ban plastic pollution

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This year's host is India and the official theme is ‘Beating plastic pollution.’

New Delhi, June 5: Celebrated on June 5 every year, World Environment Day is the United Nation’s principal vehicle for encouraging awareness and action for the protection of the flaura and fauna.

Every World Environment Day has a different global host country, where the official celebrations take place. The focus on the host country helps highlight the environmental challenges it faces, and supports the effort to address them. This year’s host is India. The official theme is ‘Beating plastic pollution.’

Here’s how Indians have taken to Twitter to spread the message:

President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged people to reaffirm the commitment to a cleaner and sustainable planet and pledge to beat the plastic pollution.

“On the World Environment Day, we reaffirm our commitment to a cleaner and sustainable planet. India is hosting the global celebrations this year. And we are obligated to bequeathing a greener and eco-friendly legacy to our children,” Kovind said in a tweet.

The Vice President pushed for the plastic ban, saying: “Let us take a pledge to ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’, the theme of the World Environment Day today. Time has come for every individual to join the campaign to end single-use plastic and protect the environment.”

PM Modi also took to Twitter to greet the people. “Together, let us ensure that our future generations live in a clean and green planet, in harmony with nature,” he said in a tweet.

Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar urged people to vow not to use low-grade plastic.

“Fifteen thousand tonnes of plastic waste is generated every day, 9,000 tonnes is collected and recycled, but 6,000 tonnes of plastic waste is not collected and remain littered,” Javadekar said.

Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad emphasised on raising awareness for “a cleaner and greener environment that can lead us to sustainable development”.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also urged people to pledge to “beat plastic pollution”.

The Congress also took to Twitter, pledging to protect and preserve the Environment, saying, “the Earth doesn’t belong to us but, we belong to the Earth”.

Popular actor and UN representative Dia Mirza took to Twitter as well, wishing everyone on World Environment Day.

Indian cricketer Gautam Gambhir too put forward some thought-provoking remarks.

Artist Sudarshan Pattnaik created the biggest sand turtle to spread the message of #beatplasticpollution.

Cricketer Rohit Sharma stressed on the fact that environment protection should not remain a one-day affair, but something that people look into everyday.

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World Environment Day: Use biodegradable pads, wear organic jeans to save environment

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WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY

New Delhi, June 5: Make your contribution in saving the Earth by using biodegradable sanitary pads, organic jeans and 100 per cent vegan skincare products.

With Tuesday being the World Environment Day, make a conscious effort and change the dynamics of the depleting environment.

Manohar Kamath, Head at Myntra Fashion Brands, who has introduced organic jeans to the brand’s collection, has given few inputs:

* Use 100 per cent organic cotton jeans, recycled poly jeans where each pair uses between 9-21 bottles worth of plastic for production, and reduced water jeans where each pair saves on 36 litres of water.

Shankar Prasad, Founder at Plum, and Cyril Feuillebois, Founder at Kronokare, have given inputs on why it will be good to switch to organic and vegan skincare products:

* The products we are choosing for self care and better health are exposing us to even more chemicals and toxins causing more harm than good to our quality of living, health and wellness. However, a subtle shift in the consumer mindset is discernible, with more and more people are opting for chemical free, organic, natural or vegan products.

* From the product to the packaging, the products should be animal cruelty-free and vegetarian.

* Remember to carry a cloth bag to bring home the groceries in and re-use the aluminium foil leftover from lunch.

Tanvi Johri, Founder at Carmesi, an all-natural sanitary pads brand, says biodegradable sanitary napkins, which are made of sustainable materials like bamboo fiber and corn starch, decompose within 6-12 months of being disposed off.

“Hence, it’s high time that we wake up to the idea of using completely biodegradable sanitary napkins that offer a sustainable solution to the tons of non-biodegradable waste generated every year due to improper disposal of sanitary waste,” Johri said.

Tanya Eldred-Bhat, Fashion Consultant, The Open Trunk, says adopting eco-friendly methods have become the “need of the hour for this glamourous world to sustain”.

“Using natural materials such as the eucalyptus fibre not only minimises the use of toxic chemicals, but also is a great example of how one can make the optimum use of natural resources, without causing any destruction,” said Eldred-Bhat.

IANS

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India

BRICS seeks action against states financing terrorism

The ministers also called for an expedited adoption of the India-initiated Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism in the UN General Assembly.

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BRICS
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Pretoria, June 4 (IANS) With India seeking joint action by the BRICS member states against terrorist financing and money laundering, the grouping on Monday called upon all countries to prevent financing of terrorist networks and terrorist actions from their territories.

“The ministers deplored the continued terrorist attacks, including in some BRICS countries,” said a joint statement issued following a BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) Foreign Ministers meeting here which was also attended by Indian External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj.

“They condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations wherever committed and by whomsoever,” it stated.

The BRICS Foreign Ministers also called for concerted efforts to counter terrorism under the UN auspices “on a firm international legal basis, and expressed their conviction that a comprehensive approach was necessary to ensure effective fight against terrorism”.

“They recalled the responsibility of all states to prevent financing of terrorist networks and terrorist actions from their territories,” the statement said in what can be seen as a veiled reference to Pakistan.

The ministers also called for an expedited adoption of the India-initiated Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism in the UN General Assembly.

Earlier on Monday, in her address at the BRICS Foreign Ministers meeting, Sushma Swaraj called for joint action by the grouping against money laundering and financing of terrorists.

She said that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given a call for a BRICS Counter-Terrorism Strategy with joint action against money-laundering, terrorist financing, cyber-space security and de-radicalization being priorities.

“Our leaders have also called for making UN Counter Terrorism framework efficient and effective,” she said.

“We reiterate our commitment to implement our Leaders’ mandate on counter terrorism under South Africa’s BRICS Chairship.”

According to the joint statement, the ministers expressed their concern over the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, particularly the increase in the number and intensity of terrorist-related attacks on the Afghan National Security Forces, the government and civilians.

“The ministers called on the international community to assist the government and the people of Afghanistan with stabilising the security situation in the country as well as for the return of dialogue with the objective of working towards the realisation of peace in the country and an inclusive political process,” the statement said.

The ministers also expressed their concern over the ongoing conflict and heightened tensions in the Middle East region, especially with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

“The ministers reiterate the need for renewed diplomatic efforts to achieving a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East on the basis of relevant United Nations resolutions, the Madrid Principles, the Arab Peace Initiative and previous agreements between the parties through negotiations with a view to create an independent, viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel,” the statement said.

“The ministers reiterated that the status of Jerusalem is one of the final status issues to be defined in the context of negotiations between Israel and Palestine.”

They also reaffirmed their commitment for a political resolution of the conflict in Syria, “through an inclusive ‘Syrian-led, Syrian-owned’ political process which safeguards the state sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria, in pursuance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254 (2015) and taking into account the result of the Congress of the Syrian National Dialogue in Sochi”.

On UN Security Council reforms, the ministers underscored the importance of sustained efforts aimed at making the UN more effective and efficient in implementing the mandates conferred upon it.

“In this regard, they committed to intensifying dialogue amongst the BRICS countries on the administration and budget of the United Nations, with a view to strengthening the organisation and preserving its member state-driven character,” the statement said.

Brazil and India, apart from Germany and Japan, are part of the G4 that is seeking permanent membership in the UNSC.

“The ministers expressed their support for continued cooperation of BRICS members in areas of mutual interest including through regular exchanges amongst their multilateral missions,” the statement said.

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