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Keep cool and carry on: Joining forces on World Ozone Day

15 Sep 2018
Realizing change

By Monica Evans, a regular contributor to Landscape News. 

It may be old news now, but it’s still cause for celebration – and inspiration.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the growing hole in the ozone layer was an extremely scary prospect. Discovered in 1985, it was also revealed to be caused by human activity: namely, the emission of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were widely used in refrigeration, air conditioning and aerosols. As scientists scrabbled for solutions, products like hairspray – that harmless-seeming hallmark of 1980s fashion – took on a more sinister significance.

However, in an uplifting example of collective global action, policymakers and scientists from around the world came together to negotiate the Montreal Protocol, which was adopted in 1987. Under the Protocol, the use of ozone-depleting substances – which are also potent global-warming gases – was all but phased out around the world over the ensuing decades. Over 98 percent of identified ODSs have now been eliminated: and ahead of schedule, too.

As a result, the hole began to “heal,” and it is predicted to return to 1980 levels by around 2050. It’s estimated that this may prevent up to 2 million cases of skin cancer every year to 2030, and that it has already kept the planet considerably cooler than it would otherwise have been. As environmental treaties go, the protocol is often considered the most successful and effective ever forged.

But that doesn’t mean it’s time to sit back on our haunches, said Tina Birmpili, executive secretary of the Montreal Protocol’s secretariat in a statement on this year’s upcoming World Ozone Day, which will take place on Sept. 16. “We can be proud of how we have protected the ozone layer and the climate, but we must also focus on what more we can do,” she said.

One issue is the ongoing use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are widely-used substitutes for ODSs, but which have recently been discovered to be extremely powerful climate-warming gases that can be thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to climate change. The Kigali Amendment to the Protocol – which will enter into force on Jan. 1, 2019 – aims to confront this issue by obliging ratifying countries to cut their production and consumption of HFCs by more than 80 percent over the next 30 years.

As such, Birmpili is urging people to “keep cool and carry on” on Sept. 16, by celebrating what has been achieved, continuing to protect the ozone layer, and dialling up action to mitigate climate change.

So beyond lobbying our governments to ratify and honor the Kigali Amendment, what else can we do? There are a number of steps we can take to limit ozone-depleting gas emissions in our very own homes.

In the bigger picture, recent studies have shown that preserving peatlands is crucial, not only for keeping carbon dioxide in the ground, but also to prevent the emission of nitrous oxide, which is now one of the biggest contributors to ozone depletion worldwide.

10 tips for protecting the ozone layer

Did you know that if you’ve got a fridge, freezer and/or air conditioner at home (or in the car), you’re harboring a hotbed of ozone-depleting substances (ODSs)? These appliances all use ODSs, in the form of refrigerant gases, to function. But by using them economically, and taking care of them carefully, we can minimize leakage of these gases into the atmosphere.

Here are ten ways to be more responsible with refrigerants:

  • Check for leaks in fridges, freezers and air conditioners, and get them repaired.
  • Ask for experts when repairing or servicing these appliances. Make sure repairs are done well and carrier gases are recycled properly.
  • Dispose of old fridges, freezers and air conditioners responsibly: take them to a qualified expert who can safely get rid of the gases, before recycling the other components.
  • Position fridges somewhere where air can circulate easily at the back, and avoid placing it next to an oven or dishwasher.
  • Clean fridges and de-ice freezers on a regular basis.
  • Don’t over-fill freezers: just store what’s really necessary.
  • Position your air-conditioner condenser in the shade outside, and clean this and the evaporator regularly.
  • Insulate your walls, doors and windows to improve energy efficiency and prolong the life of your appliances.
  • Switch all these appliances off when they’re not in use.
  • Drive for a few minutes with the windows open before you turn your car’s air conditioner on, and park in the shade.

Source: UNEP Ozone Secretariat

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