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Stop ozone layer depletion

As a group of nations that aims to actively promote a healthy environment, the European Union plays an important role in international efforts to address climate change as well as other environmental urgencies.

The progress made should serve as a strong basis on which to pursue our efforts to achieve full recovery
- David Casa

An environmental issue that has long occupied the international community is that of ozone layer depletion, which has a direct impact on the health of human beings and other living organisms. Recognising the urgency to prevent this depletion, the United Nations established the Montreal Protocol On Substances That Deplete The Ozone Layer some two decades ago. Since then, the so-called Montreal Protocol has received widespread support from around the world, having been ratified by almost 200 countries.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of this treaty and recent celebrations that took place in Geneva again reminded the EU of the significant contribution that this protocol has made to protect and restore the ozone layer.

The Montreal Protocol aims to tackle ozone depletion by stipulating an elimination of the use of those substances that are said to damage the ozone layer. These are also known as ozone-depleting substances and have been utilised in various devices such as air conditioners or refrigerators. However, scientists discovered that these substances were causing great damage to the ozone layer that protects the earth from ultra violet (UV) radiation.

The Montreal Protocol, thus, ensures that the use of these damaging substances, which include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), is gradually phased out. This is also important in the context of climate change because some of these substances are strong greenhouse gases that contribute towards global warming.

But why is it so important to protect the ozone layer?

The ozone layer is a layer of gas that sits in the atmosphere above the surface of the earth. It is important to the well-being of humans and living organisms because it filters the UV radiation from the sun, which can otherwise have negative impacts on human health. Damaged areas in the ozone layer, which can also be veritable ‘ozone holes’, cause more UV radiation to reach the planet.

Once that happens, the increased radiation can pose a threat to people and ecosystems. This means that human beings are at greater risk of developing certain types of skin cancer, immune deficiency problems or even cataracts. Cataract is a disorder that causes cloudiness in the vision of patients affected, which can even lead to blindness if it remains untreated.

Mitigating these risks is not only beneficial to human health but also to the economy. A recent UN report outlines global savings in health cost as a result of the measures contained in the Montreal Protocol. According to the report, some 0.3 million cases of skin cancer will be prevented globally from 1987 to 2060, which equates to the monetary value of about $1,109 billion.

Therefore, mitigating human health impacts also comes with the added benefit of significant cost savings.

But the impacts of UV radiation reach beyond human health and can equally affect different ecosystems and living organisms. When entering the natural environment, UV rays can, for instance, have negative effects on growth processes and food chains.

With joint efforts in the international community, the use of ozone-depleting substances has decreased by about 98 per cent worldwide. The EU, in particular, has played a pioneering role in this process, having introduced some of the strictest laws in the world. In doing so, it has not only managed to achieve the targets set out in the Montreal Protocol but to actually exceed them.

Thanks to these efforts, the consumption levels of the main ozone-depleting substances in the EU went down to zero two years ago, in 2010.

Global efforts to phase out the use of substances that deplete the ozone layer have already led to signs of recovery. However, once released into the atmosphere, ozone-depleting substances persist over a long period of time and the process of depletion can therefore not be stopped overnight. This means that there is still a long way ahead towards full recovery and more needs to be done in order to achieve this.

Hopes are that the ozone layer can fully recover by the middle of this century, if adequate action is taken.

The 25th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol is a reminder of the ambitious and efficient cooperation that countries around the world have demonstrated when it comes to protecting the ozone layer.

Looking ahead, the progress made should serve as a strong basis on which to pursue our efforts to achieve full recovery. The benefits of this will certainly be felt by people, planet and taxpayers’ pockets.

David Casa is a Nationalist MEP.

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