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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.

Image result for Ozone Hole Green House Gases

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])

Nature

‘World Ozone Day an opportunity to focus on ozone layer protection’

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world ozone day

New Delhi, Sep 17 (IANS) Union Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan on Monday said the World Ozone Day was an opportunity to focus global attention on protecting the ozone layer.

Observing the 24th World Ozone Day with this year’s theme ‘Keep Cool and Carry on: The Montreal Protocol’ the Minister stressed upon the need to strengthen active collaboration between the government, industries and all stakeholders.

According to the ministry, implementation of Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) programme has not only led to the phase-out of around 98 per cent chemicals, but also averted more than 135 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.

“Nearly two million cases of skin cancer per year have been averted globally” it said.

The ministry has already undertaken an important initiative for up-skilling of one lakh refrigeration and air-conditioning servicing technicians in collaboration with the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, he said.

He underlined the Montreal Protocol — international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of numerous substances that are responsible for ozone depletion.

Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change Secretary C.K. Mishra said it was critical to identify the usage of gases and not merely replacement of gases.

“There are alternative ways to cooling that should be looked at. Another issue is an army of trained manpower to handle manufacturing and maintenance,” Mishra said.

On the occasion, the Minister released the draft India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP), a booklet on ‘Montreal Protocol – India’s Success Story’ and refurbished website on the Ozone Cell.

The event was attended by senior officials of the ministry, UN Environment representatives, officials of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

September 16 was marked by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) as the International Day for ozone layer prevention.

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254 copper coins of medieval era discovered at Khirki mosque

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Khirki Mosque Coin

New Delhi, Sep 12 : The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has discovered a hoard of 254 copper coins of medieval period within the Khirki mosque compound here during the conservation of the monument, said Ministry of Culture on Wednesday.

The mosque built by Khan-i-Jahan Junan Shah, the prime minister of Firoz Shah Tughlaq (1351-88), lies on the southern periphery of the village Khirki, the ministry said in a statement, adding it was believed to be one of the seven mosques built by the latter.

The ministry said that while cleaning the Khirki mosque, the ASI found a hoard of 254 coins of medieval period near the entrance of the monument.

“A few coins got cleaned by ASI experts and on the basis of preliminary observation, it can be said that some of the coins belong to the reign of Sher Shah Suri and his successors” it said.

On the same premises, in the year 2003, ASI had found over 63 coins during cleaning and conservation, ministry said adding the Delhi circle has started scientific clearance of the area under technical supervision of archaeologists.

IANS

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Analysis

Planet sending a clear message to act now: UN Environment’s Eric Solheim

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United Nations Environment head Erik Solheim

San Francisco, Sep 12 : The planet is sending a clear message — to act and that too within a short time-frame or lose the ability to turn things around, says United Nations Environment Executive Director Erik Solheim.

“Typhoons and floods are not new, but we are seeing a broader pattern of more severe and more frequent extreme weather events,” Solheim told IANS in an interview here.

His concerns came ahead of the three-day Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) that began on Wednesday with the participation of 4,000 plus business and political leaders, investors, citizens and government representatives from all over the world in this California city.

“That’s (natural calamities) what the scientists predicted, and it’s what we’re seeing play out now right in front of our eyes. Our planet is sending us a clear message. We have to act, and we’re a short time-frame to do so before we lose the ability to turn things around.”

He was replying to a question on his thoughts for the people of Kerala in India and Osaka in Japan that have been recently affected by floods and a typhoon.

Solheim, who is also attending the summit, which aims to “take ambition to the next level” and persuade the world’s Presidents and Prime Ministers to go further and faster to reduce emissions, said: “The bottom line is that we need to step up the ambition and create a momentum.”

On India playing a leading role in driving down global emissions, he said “absolutely”.

“I think Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi has shown incredible leadership in driving the shift to renewables and steering India towards being a greener, cleaner economy. The innovation that we’re seeing, not just in terms of renewables deployment but also the wider shift to a more circular economic model, is really encouraging.”

From India, Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra is one of the Global Climate Action Summit’s Co-Chairs.

In a plenary on September 13, he will provide an update on how many companies that have adopted Science-Based Targets — aligning their pollution reduction plans with the Paris agreement.

Solheim saw business value in companies adopting science-based climate targets.

“We’re seeing more and more examples of businesses wanting to do this, and dozens of global giants on that path.

“For me it’s important for two reasons: Firstly, companies are showing how sustainability can be a core part of business, rather than an on-the-side CSR (corporate social responsibility) exercise. They’re moving beyond PR (public relations),” he said.

“Secondly, the companies doing this are seeing strong support from shareholders and investors. They’re seeing that these targets are also about efficiency and innovation. That makes a business less exposed to environmental risk, which is good for business.”

One recent example he has seen is the company IKEA, which is aiming to be climate positive by 2030 and this requires an 80 per cent cut in emissions, the UN Environment head said: “It’s a sound move as the company will have a head start in making the transition to a low carbon economy.”

“In India I was also really impressed when I visited the Infosys campus in Hyderabad. They have clear targets on waste, cooling, power consumption and overall efficiency, which make them not only commendable from the environmental perspective, but also a compelling investment.”

Favouring electric vehicles that will play a role in decarbonising of the economy, Solheim said: “We have to see the introduction of electric vehicles as part of the wider change we need to see in transport. That includes more public transport or transport-sharing solutions.”

He said the developed countries need to look at the shift not as a constraint or an obligation, but as an opportunity for greater energy security, a more inclusive economy and the lower healthcare burden that comes from tackling the causes of pollution.

“India isn’t making the change because it wants to shoulder the burden of climate action, but because it makes perfect sense from an economic perspective. That’s how more countries need to see it,” he said.

(Vishal Gulati is in San Francisco at the invitation of the Climate Trends to cover the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS). He can be contacted at [email protected])

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