This article was first published on DENR website
Every year on September 16, the United Nations (UN) leads the celebration of the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, also known as World Ozone Day. In the Philippines, the entire month of September is celebrated as Ozone Protection Month.
The celebration of World Ozone Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly to commemorate that date a quarter of a century ago, when 24 countries signed the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. For the 25th anniversary celebration, the theme is “Protecting our atmosphere for generations to come.”
But how significant is the Montreal Protocol to life on earth? And how has the Philippines contributed to the healing process of our ozone layer?
A treaty to restore the earth’s umbrella
The ozone layer is the thin, fragile layer found in the stratosphere, about 20-40 kilometers above the earth’s surface. This layer is comprised of ozone, a naturally occurring greenhouse gas (GHG) made up of three atoms of oxygen (O3). At ground level, ozone is considered a pollutant, but in the stratosphere, ozone protects humans and other life forms on earth by shielding us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, particularly UV-B.
According to studies, exposure to UV-B radiation poses several risks such as:
- For humans, it means susceptibility to skin cancer, which kills 66,000 people worldwide every year. UV-B radiation also causes cataracts, which lead to blindness, and rapid aging.
- UV-B affects the growth and quality of crops and trees. Rays penetrating the ocean also affects the reproduction of phytoplankton, which, as the primary food source of most marine life, is at the bottom of the food chain, as well as growth of fish eggs and young plants.
- UV-B degrades the quality of outdoor plastics and polymers commonly used for buildings, paints and packaging.
From the 1970s to the 80s, scientists discovered and observed the depletion of ozone molecules in the atmosphere caused by greenhouse gases such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which is commonly used in aerosols and as refrigerants. The depletion led to the thinning of the ozone layer, eventually creating a hole that has rendered the earth vulnerable to UV rays. The hole is located over the Antarctic region at the earth’s South Pole, then measuring around 25 million square kilometers, or more than 80 times bigger than the Philippines.
In 1985, 196 nations from the UN and the European Union entered into a multilateral environmental agreement (MEA) in Vienna, Austria to protect the ozone layer. The framework for global efforts was embodied in the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, which took effect in 1988. But it was on September 16, 1987, when UN member nations gathered in Montreal, Canada to lay down the goals in reducing the use of CFCs. The Montreal Protocol called on the phasing out of the chemicals as they were depleting the ozone layer, while simultaneously searching for alternative chemicals that would be ozone-friendly.
Twenty-five years later, the Montreal Protocol is now considered the most successful international agreement, being the only treaty to have been ratified universally – all known countries in the world are signatories, with South Sudan, the world’s newest country, as the latest signatory. The Philippines became a signatory in 1991.
With strict compliance to the Montreal Protocol, the ozone layer is estimated to recover (to the 1980s level) by year 2050. To date, continuing global efforts have led to the worldwide phase-out of 98 per cent of ODS produced. As a result, there has been a decline in atmospheric ODS levels. This translates to millions of cases of skin cancer and eye cataracts avoided, and an equivalent of more than 135 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions averted.
“After 25 years, the ozone is healing, and will continue to heal as long as we all abide by our commitments under the Montreal Protocol,” said Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
The DENR, through the Philippine Ozone Desk (POD) of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), is the national coordinator for the implementation of the Montreal Protocol in the Philippines.
Through the Multilateral Fund (MLF) and other implementing agencies, the Philippines has been a beneficiary of over US$36 million in investment and non-investment projects in the country since 1991. About 81 per cent of the funding for investment projects was used to purchase consumable equipment and tools that were distributed to manufacturing companies, training, and service institutions, particularly those involved in refrigeration and air conditioning systems. Other industries involve aerosols, fire extinguishers, rigid and flexible foam, and cigarettes.
One particular system used to phase out ODS, as implemented by the DENR’s National CFC Phaseout Plan (NCPP) Project, was the voucher system, where qualified refrigeration and air conditioning (particularly mobile) service shops were given fund assistance to acquire equipment they could use for recovering refrigerants. In turn, the recovered refrigerants were turned over to a Collection, Transport and Storage (CTS) facility. To date, there have been 2,521 vouchers approved and awarded across 16 regions nationwide, 37% of which are in the National Capital Region.
Established in September 2010, the CTS facility’s administrators were provided different equipment to identify, collect, store and reclaim refrigerants. As of August 2012, the facility has collected more than 8,045 kilograms of ODS, almost half of which were mixed refrigerants. These were re-processed and prepared for disposition by legitimate importers, dealers, resellers and end-users.
Non-investment projects are focused on the conduct of training, capability building, information campaigns, and technical assistance nationwide.
Simultaneously, the POD continuously conducted information campaign and other activities to drum up awareness on the protection of the ozone layer. Among these are the conduct of lectures in schools, publication of information materials, and free testing of mobile air conditioners (MAC). In 2010, the Philippine Postal Corporation also released a series of postal stamps depicting the Montreal Protection and the ozone layer.
With all these efforts, the Philippines has been able to phase out 3,300 ozone depleting potential (ODP) tons in the manufacturing and servicing sectors from 1991 to 2011. Of these, CFCs constituted 97.8 per cent; halons, two per cent; and methyl bromide, 0.2 per cent.
What lies ahead?
After having completed the phase-out of seven of the eight ODS groups controlled under the Montreal Protocol, the next step for the Philippines is to phase out the remaining group: hydrochlorofluorocarbons or HCFCs. This chemical is used in foam sprays, fire extinguishers, solvents, and air conditioning units.
The phase-out will be implemented on a gradual basis. Starting January 2013, the country’s importation should not exceed the 2010 base level of 162 tons. This would be reduced further by 10 per cent starting 2015; 35% in 2020; 67.5% in 2025; and 97.5% in 2030 before being altogether banned in 2040.
One challenge of the phase-out lies in the close monitoring of illegal trading of ODS. Another challenge is in finding other viable alternatives to HCFCs. It should be mentioned that one alternative found, the hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs, while may not be an ODS, but contributes to global warming. Other options identified include ammonia, hydrocarbons (HCs) and carbon dioxide as natural refrigerants, and supercritical carbon dioxide (SCCO2)
Above all, Secretary Paje reminded every person, regardless of nationality or race, to do his or her share in protecting the ozone layer. Appliances and other electrical equipment should be energy efficient, ozone friendly, and do not contain ODS. For those who think that it is too expensive to replace their refrigerators or air conditioners with new ones, it is possible to retrofit existing units through service shops accredited by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and with technicians certified by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
“All our efforts would be futile without the cooperation of the general public. Let us be vigilant against the use of illegal refrigerants in our own homes and offices, as well as their probable sale in the market. Let us each do our part and share what we know, because a healing ozone layer means a healing Earth that future generations can enjoy,” said environment secretary Paje.