An important finding in 2018 brought to light that the emissions of an extremely dangerous ozone depleting substance have been snowballing. The finding was indicative of the fact that enormous emissions of CFC 11 were being produced by someone somewhere in the world, with quantities adding upto 7000 tonnes every year since 2013. A study released in May 2018 found that the ozone depleting substance, CFC 11, is being used extensively by China in violation of the Montreal Protocol.
The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, effective since 1989, is an international treaty with about 46 signatories which phases out the production of numerous substances that are responsible for ozone layer depletion and hence, is designed to protect the ozone layer. CFC-11 is mainly used in polyurethane foams that are used to insulate buildings as well as refrigerators. The gas is a major contributor to global warming. Despite being one among the 46 signatories of the protocol, and signing up to eliminate the production of CFC 11 in 2010, China continues to emit the polluting gas. The study released in May 2018 depicts the rise of this gas since 2013, emissions increasing by 25% since 2012. Although it was difficult to detect the exact source of these emissions, a monitoring station in Mauna Loa in Hawaii made it possible by giving evidences that East Asia, mainly China, might be the source.
Ozone layer depletion is a major factor contributing to the global climate change and the rise of the earth’s temperature as a whole. Ozone plays an important role in absorbing the sun’s ultraviolet radiations and therefore prevents it from reaching the earth’s surface, which would lead to the rise of global temperature and cause cancerous effects on the living organisms. A major fault on the CFC-11’s part is that, it not only depletes the ozone layer, but also sustains itself for extraordinarily long time periods. James Lovelock, a British scientist had discovered a highly sensitive way to measure CFC-11 and had found that practically all of the CFC-11 ever manufactured was still present in the atmosphere. Therefore, the thinning of the ozone layer makes the living as well as non living entities more vulnerable to the harmful effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Although the depletion of ozone has been witnessed to occur all across the planet, it is particularly severe in the Antarctic. This is because the cold nature of the place accelerates the conversion of CFC breakdown products into ozone damaging chlorine atoms. The size of the hole in the ozone above the Antarctic fluctuates depending on how cold each winter is. The hole had reached upto 30 million square kilometres, about four times the area of Australia, in 2000. However, by 2018, the hole had shrunk to 24.7 million square kilometres and showed potential of being completely recovered by around the middle of the century. Speculating on the effects of the new emissions, no significant conclusions have been drawn out as of now. Atmospheric chemist, Dr. Susan Strahan of NASA says, “The new emissions will definitely slow down the recovery of the ozone hole, but will it be five years, ten years, twenty years? I’m not sure.” The answer depends on a large extent on whether the emissions cease or continue.
The matters get even more complicated when a delay is witnessed between the release of the gas and the impact that it has on the ozone layer, as well as a delay in the release of the gas from the products it was used in. It could take decades before the full amount of the residues of the gas locked up in foams and gone into buildings is released into the atmosphere. However, to tackle the situation, China recently reported to the UN Environment Program about its efforts on tracking down the illegal production and manufacturing of the chemicals, which include the destruction of facilities and imposing of fines. According to news reports, the Chinese Mininstry of Ecology and Environment promised to strengthen its policing activities this year. The advancing progress in combating ozone layer depletion as a result of the Montreal Protocol depends on strict compliance by China and therefore, the country must adhere to it.
Picture Courtesy- ABC