Faced with an environmental conundrum, a new United Nations report today tackled the problem of chemicals that safeguard the world's ozone layer protecting humankind from skin cancers and cataracts, yet contribute to greenhouse gases heating up the Earth.
"There can be no trade-offs between saving the ozone layer and minimizing climate change," UN Environment Programme (UNEP
) Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said of the study, entitled "Safeguarding the ozone layer and the global climate system: issues related to hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs)."
For the past 20 years, ozone-friendly HFCs and PFCs have been replacing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in a wide-scale application of items ranging from refrigeration and air conditioning to foams, aerosols, fire protection and solvents. But like CFCs themselves, some of these alternatives are also powerful greenhouse gases.
According to the report, CFC emissions, which by destroying the ozone let in excessive solar ultraviolet rays, and their replacements can be minimized by improving their containment to prevent leaks, evaporation and emissions of unintended by-products, and by reducing the amounts needed in any particular type of equipment.
The study also proposes promoting more end-of-life recovery, recycling and destruction of substances, increasing the use of ammonia and other alternative substances with a lower or zero global warming potential and using various emerging technologies that avoid gases that deplete ozone or contribute to climate change.
The report was drafted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established in 1988 by UNEP and the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO
), in collaboration with the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP
), set up under the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer on phasing out CFCs and administered by UNEP.
"Although climate change and ozone destruction are essentially different issues, our use of certain chemicals links them together," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said. "We must continuously monitor, undertake research and improve how we manage this group of extremely useful substances, which is implicated in not one, but two of the major environmental problems we have ever known."
HFCs and PFCs were included in the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC
) and in its 1997
Kyoto Protocol, under which most developed countries are to reduce their emissions from a basket of six greenhouse gases by the period 2008-2012.
"This report demonstrates that it is in our power to maintain the Montreal Protocol's momentum while achieving the Kyoto Protocol's targets," Mr. Toepfer said. "It also reveals that many available win-win solutions are cost-competitive when compared with options for reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases."
As confirmed by today's report, rapid action by governments to adopt and implement the Montreal Protocol has reduced the global production of ozone-depleting gases and essentially stabilized the ozone layer.