Islamabad – Efforts are underway in Pakistan to reduce the production and consumption of substances that deplete the Earth’s ozone layer by 10 per cent over the next couple of years, according to officials at the Climate Change Division.
“This year, we started the process of phasing out hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) which are commonly used as refrigerant in refrigerators and air conditioners,” said Asif Khan, the National Programme Manager of the Ozone Cell at the division. “When released in the atmosphere, the chlorine atoms in HCFCs can destroy the ozone layer which protects Earth from Sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation.”
Khan was speaking with The Express Tribune on the eve of the International Day for Preservation of Ozone Layer. Since 1994, the day has been celebrated each year on September 16 to commemorate the date of the signing of the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.
The protocol, signed by 190 countries including Pakistan, requires its member states to completely phase out consumption and production of HCFCs by 2030. Developing countries, such as Pakistan, are required to achieve 10 per cent reduction in existing HCFC production and consumption by 2015, Khan said.
The Montreal Protocol is considered a successful treaty, as countries around the world joined forces to phase out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the original ozone depletion compounds, by 2010. Unfortunately, the CFCs were replaced HCFCs which later turned out to be equally harmful to the ozone layer, leading to revised objectives for the protocol.
HCFCs are also present in greenhouse gases that trap heat and lead to global warming, according to the Ozone Cell.
Khan said the Ozone Cell at the Climate Change Division, which works closely with the international organizations such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on ozone layer preservation, is focusing on heavy consumers of HCFCs in industry.
These include the manufacturers of insulating foam used in refrigerators and facilities manufacturing refrigerators and air conditioners.
“We are trying to help foam manufacturers to start using cyclopentane gas instead of HCFCs,” Khan said. “This alternative is not only ozone-friendly but also beneficial for the climate.”
He said in the next phase, the Ozone Cell is going to work with manufacturers of split air conditioners to adopt alternatives.
Gul Najam Jamy, the Assistant Country Director of United Nations Development Programme which also supports the Ozone Cell, said the theme of the 2013 international day — “A healthy atmosphere” — is extremely relevant.
“It is sometimes difficult to get people to understand the importance of ozone layer preservation,” Jamy said. “But if you look at the health impacts, the importance is obvious.”
He said excessive exposure to Sun’s ultraviolet rays can cause skin cancer and cataracts, which makes it essential to protect the ozone layer. There is an additional benefit too, he said.
“Protecting the atmosphere might also help engender a culture in our society of protecting the environment,” Jamy said.
While the interventions for reducing HCFCs are mostly based around industry, Khan said there are some steps consumers can take as well.
“People should only get maintenance work done on their refrigerators and air conditioners when it is absolutely needed,” he said. “It’s because repair work could lead to accidental leakage of HCFCs in the atmosphere.”
Khan said people could also use sun-block to reduce the risk of skin cancer due to ultraviolet radiation.