Battle Is Won, War Still Not Over

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Not just Sri Lanka, but the entire world is battling a crippling economic crisis at the moment. At such times, environmental concerns are, in general, pushed to the background with the economic and socio-political crises attracting the attention of Governments as well as world bodies.

However, we are living in a world where the atmosphere is increasingly becoming warmer, air quality deteriorating quite rapidly and the effects of climate change are being felt more poignantly, especially by those who are living in the climate change danger zone.

Nevertheless, economic and political instability that is witnessed across the globe can have a devastating effect on the environment and it can also lead to the reversal of some of the achievements gained over the past few decades.

One such important achievement is the recovery of the ozone layer.

As we celebrate the World Ozone Day today, observed every year on 16 September, also known as the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, it is important to take a look at some of the challenges faced while preserving it.

The fight to prevent the ozone layer from depleting has come a long way, which can be traced back to 1974 when Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina wrote a scientific article published in the Nature journal. In that article, they warned that human-generated chemicals such as Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), contained in everyday products such as aerosols, foams, refrigerators and air-conditioners were harming the ozone layer. At that time, they were not aware of the scale of the problem. Then, in 1985, British Antarctic Survey scientists found out about an ozone hole over Antarctica. 

The realisation suddenly dawned that the world’s natural sun shield, which protects humans, plants, animals and ecosystems from excessive ultraviolet radiation, had been breached.

Suddenly, a devastating future of skin cancers, cataracts, dying plants and crops and damaged ecosystems loomed. There was no time to lose. Scientists had raised the alarm and the world listened. 

In 1985, Governments across the world adopted the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, which provided the framework for the Montreal Protocol to phase out ozone-depleting substances, including CFCs. The Protocol came into effect in 1989 and by 2008, it was the first and only UN environmental agreement to be ratified by every single country in the world. 

Over time, close to 99 per cent of ozone-depleting substances have been phased out and this resulted in repairing the protective layer above Earth. The Antarctic ozone hole is expected to close by the 2060s, while other regions will return to pre-1980s conditions even earlier. As a direct result from this achievement, around 2 million people are saved from skin cancer.

However, although the battle to close the hole in the ozone layer has been won, the war against worsening environmental pollution and climate change is far from over. In fact, the present global food crisis could very well be termed as a direct result of overconsumption and scant regard for environment preservation.

In the words of Andrea Hinwood, Chief Scientist of the UN Environment Programme, “Protection of the ozone layer is our long-term commitment and responsibility. Each generation must take up the baton to ensure the continued survival of our planet’s protective shield. Teaching the next generation about the Montreal Protocol empowers them with the knowledge that environmental challenges can be overcome if we listen to the science and work together.”

It is also important to keep in mind that unless the world drastically reduces the reliance on fossil fuels and take measures to improve air quality, it would take only a brief moment to reverse all the hard work done to preserve the ozone shield.