In Paris this year, remember Vienna 1985


South BeachThinking of the ozone layer as the the planet's sunscreen is a good illustration of how it protects the web of life. Photo by Thomas Hawk, licensed under CC2.0.

On September 16th this year, the world should take a bow. It was thirty years ago, on this day that the international community gathered in Vienna to agree on a common course of action to eliminate the industrial use of chemicals that were depleting the earth’s ozone layer. The Vienna Convention has since emerged as one of the most successful global treaties of all time.   

The forecast looked grim in 1985. Harmful chemicals released from the use of household items such as refrigerators, air-conditioners and aerosols were lodging themselves in the earth’s stratosphere (roughly 10km above the surface) and breaking down ozone molecules which play a critical role in preventing the Sun’s ultraviolet rays from reaching the Earth’s surface. As the ozone layer thinned, we were likely to see a proliferation of skin cancer, cataracts and weakened human immune systems – and that wasn’t the worst of it. Since the ozone layer also protects the balance of global eco-systems, we were faced with an eventual breakdown in the web of life.

As the world gathers in Paris this November, to agree on a new agreement to tackle global climate change, policy-makers would do well to draw wisdom from the success of the Montreal Protocol – which was the practical set of binding commitments that countries agreed to, following on from the agreement in Vienna.    

Thanks to the Protocol and the efforts of the countries that ratified it, there has been an unprecedented turnaround.  The ozone layer is already showing signs of recovery and is expected to recover toward its 1980 levels by the year 2050. Global action will be preventing two million cases of skin cancer every year by 2030.

In fact, ozone depleting substances also contribute to global warming as they are powerful greenhouse gases. Studies show that ‘in 1987, ozone-depleting substances contributed about 10 gigatonnes CO2-equivalent emissions per year’. The Montreal Protocol has now reduced these GHG emissions by more than 90 per cent. This reduction is about five times larger than the annual emissions reduction target for the first commitment period (2008-2012) of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

Since 1991, UNDP has assisted 120 countries to access US$733.5 million from the Fund for the Montreal Protocol, helping to eliminate 67,870 tonnes of ODS while also reducing 5.08 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent GHG emissions which, according to industry benchmark calculations, is the roughly the equivalent of emissions from a billion cars in the US.
From the use of asthma inhalers in Bangladesh to the production of Sri Lanka’s Ceylon tea, we have worked with governments to develop regulations and offer training on alternative technologies. The Montreal Protocol has shown that, with global commitment and cooperation and financial support to developing countries the work can be done to adopt ozone and environment friendly alternatives.   

As a global citizen, you can advocate the importance of ozone protection and choose products with ozone and climate friendly technologies. And most importantly, draw courage from the global action that has resulted in the protection of our common future. So far as the earth’s ozone layer is concerned. Next stop: global action on climate change.  

Sustainable development Environment Ozone layer protection Climate change Blog post

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