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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])

India

Green activists remind Modi, Gadkari of their promises for Yamuna

“Both Nitin Gadkiri and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised both before and after 2014 Lok Sabha elections of several steps to save Yamuna, but so far nothing has been done to save the river,” environmentalist Dr Devashish Bhattacharya said.

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PM Modi and CM Nitish Kumar
PM Modi unveiling the Foundation Stones of Projects under Namami Gange & National Highway projects, in Mokama, Bihar on October 14, 2017. Pic : ANI

Agra, Dec 9 : Angry green activists on Sunday demanded firm steps to save a dying Yamuna, the lifeline of Agra with three world heritage monuments and several other architectural marvels.

River Connect Campaigners first cleaned the Etmauddaula View-Point Park on the Yamuna bank, and followed it up with a public rally to express concern and ire against continued dilly-dallying on the need for restoring the original glory of river Yamuna, one of the holiest rivers of India.

“Both Nitin Gadkiri and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised both before and after 2014 Lok Sabha elections of several steps to save Yamuna, but so far nothing has been done to save the river,” environmentalist Dr Devashish Bhattacharya said.

In a resolution, river activists demanded immediate action on the Yamuna barrage on downstream of the Taj Mahal, as was promised by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

River cleaning, desilting and dredging had also been promised but the concerned agencies have not shown any interest, the activists said, adding that the result is huge piles of garbage, sewer and industrial effluents increasing the overall pollution load in the river, causing adverse effect on the monuments along the banks of Yamuna.

The resolution also reminded Nitin Gadkiri of his promise to start ferry service to bring tourists from Delhi to see the Taj Mahal.

The green activists also expressed dissatisfaction with the working of the Taj Trapezium Zone Authority which has “miserably failed to address the problem of river pollution”.

The meeting blamed the river police squad to stop encroachers of the flood plains of the rivers, the polluters and the waste dumpers. Despite the success of the ODF programme, people could still be seen defecating on the river bed.

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US, Russia block UN panel report on climate change

These nations are climate villains and they must be opposed by the rest of the world, instead, they have found a steadfast ally and co-conspirator in the world’s most powerful country, the US, he said.

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File Pic of US President Donald Trump and Russian President Putin

Katowice (Poland), Dec 9 : The US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait have blocked the other 193 assembled countries in this Polish city from “welcoming” the recent IPCC report, even though the report had been requested by the earlier UN climate summit in Paris in 2015.

The US had even rejected the science itself, standing alone among all the world’s countries in refusing to endorse the findings of the report.

Reacting to this development, Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid’s International Climate Lead, said: “Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kuwait and especially the United States are rogue nations.

“These four major fossil fuel producers are working together against the interests of the rest of the world and jeopardising the chances of a safe climate.

“They show disregard for the wellbeing of the most vulnerable people on the planet. Climate change even threatens the future of their own people and yet they act to suppress scientific warnings.

“I had hoped that Saudi Arabia was undergoing reform and this was their chance to demonstrate it. But they have shown they don’t care about human rights, people or the planet.”

These nations are climate villains and they must be opposed by the rest of the world, instead, they have found a steadfast ally and co-conspirator in the world’s most powerful country, the US, he said.

Regarding the US pro-coal side event taking place on Monday at the ongoing UN climate summit, known as COP24, he added: “With great power comes great responsibility, and yet the US has failed to take this responsibility seriously. President Trump’s actions threaten the lives of many of the poorest people around the world.

“The scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) have shown that coal is the cause of our climate crisis and needs to be left in the ground, not touted at meetings designed to solve the suffering it has caused. The fact President Trump’s America is holding a pro-coal event at the climate summit underlines his utter ignorance and recklessness,” he added.

(Vishal Gulati is in Katowice at the invitation of Climate Trends to cover the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as COP24. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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Deer in Thar Desert fall prey to domestic dogs

However, free-ranging dogs remained the dominant factor and the question is how to curb their increasing menace, Bhardwaj said.

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Deer in Thar Desert

Jaipur, Dec 6 : In Rajasthan’s Thar desert, nearly 75 per cent of chinkaras (Indian gazelle) fall prey to domestic dogs, according to G.S. Bhardwaj, Chief Conservator of Forests and Field Director of the Sariska Tiger Reserve.

“Most of the mortalities happen in rural areas due to domestic dogs causing direct predation, fear-mediated behavioural changes, direct food competition, hybridisation and disease transmission,” the forest officer, also hailed as a “wildlife scientist” owing to his field-oriented work on wildlife ranging from tigers to the most critically endangered bird, Great Indian Bustard, told IANS.

He maintained that domestic dogs have contributed to 11 vertebrate extinctions and are a known or potential threat to 188 threatened species worldwide.

Injuries to or deaths of gazelles are more during the monsoon (June-August) season in the desert. This is probably because of accumulation of rainwater in agricultural fields and ploughed land. These two factors make it difficult for the small antelopes to run from the clutches of dogs.

Road accidents account for 8.39 per cent of the injuries to gazelles.

However, free-ranging dogs remained the dominant factor and the question is how to curb their increasing menace, Bhardwaj said.

“A sustained sterilisation programme at settlement level and constant removal of dogs from wildlife-rich areas can resolve the growing crisis of free-ranging dogs in this landscape. This step can help in bridging the gap between conservation agencies and local communities who want dogs in their settlements to be relocated,” he added.

The officer was all praise for the Bishnoi community, living mostly in the desert, for their conservation-centric ways. Noting that the community holds the most outstanding position for preserving wildlife, he added they catch poachers and also recover a major number of injured wild animals and carry them to Jodhpur, where the Forest Department runs a Wildlife Rescue Centre.

“However, most of these injured animals breathe their last on the way to hospital and, therefore, there should be wildlife rescue wards and mobile rescue platforms in different district hospitals. This will definitely help in bringing down the mortality rate,” he explained.

Recently, 17 rescue-wards have been introduced at different places to minimise the mortality of animals in the transportation process. A veterinary doctor heads each unit. However, surgeries and advanced care facilities are available only at the Jodhpur centre.

“There is an urgent need to bring in more such wards,” Bhardwaj said.

On the positive side, a well-defined system in the Forest Department helps in assessing the number of injuries and deaths of different animals. The department is informed of animal injuries/deaths through a network of frontline staff and local communities.

Bhardwaj has analysed seven years of data — 2009-16 — of the Jodhpur rescue centre. His work included assessing the extent of injury/death suffered by various species, understanding the factors responsible, assessing the success rate of rescue operations and finally recommending strategies for reducing the detrimental effects of human-animal interface on wildlife and improving the effectiveness of rescue operations.

He said that, in the period he studied, 6,304 cases of wild animals belonging to 51 species were reported injured/dead and treated at the Jodhpur centre. Among them, the maximum (3,624) were the chinkaras, followed by blackbucks (645), bluebulls (607), langur (86), Indian hares (62), black kites (56), owls (47) and cranes (39).

(Archana Sharma can be reached at [email protected])

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