Europe has made significant progress in phasing out chemicals which damage the ozone layer, according to a report from the European Environment Agency (EEA). The report considers production and use of more than 200 chemicals which damage the planet’s ozone layer, which are controlled by the Montreal Protocol and EU legislation.
In the 1970s and 1980s, scientists established that certain man-made chemicals were depleting the ozone in the earth’s stratosphere. This was subsequently confirmed by the finding of abnormally low ozone concentrations above Antarctica – the so-called ‘ozone hole’.
Stratospheric ozone plays an essential role in limiting the amount of ultraviolet light reaching the surface of the planet, helping prevent skin cancers and other problems such as damage to crops and marine phytoplankton. By signing the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, part of the Vienna Convention for the protection of the Ozone Layer, governments agreed to reduce the production and consumption of ozone depleting substances (ODS). These two treaties are the only agreements in the history of the United Nations to be universally ratified.
Within the European Union, companies are obliged to report their use of ODS, including imports, exports, consumption and destruction. In total, 189 companies reported activities involving ODS in 2011.
Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director said: “The latest figures show that Europe has effectively addressed the pollution leading to the ozone hole. The Montreal Protocol is one of the most successful international environmental agreements to date, this example of global action should inspire cooperation on other global environmental problems.”
- Consumption of ODS in the European Union (EU) is nowadays extremely low compared to past levels. The EU has met the international targets for phasing out consumption in 2010, 10 years ahead of schedule.
- Production of ODS in the EU has declined steadily since 2006, with a significant dip in 2009 due to the economic crisis. After a partial increase in 2010, production decreased again in 2011.
- Imports of these chemicals have declined since 2006, although between 2010 and 2011 there was an increase of 5 %, if measured in metric tonnes, or 8.3 % if weighted for their effect on the ozone layer. Almost half came of imports from China, while more than a third came from the United States.
- Exports have fallen steadily since 2006 at an average rate of 27 % every year. The report finds that this is largely due to declining production and increasing use of the remaining production for ‘feedstock’ use. In such instances, the chemicals are used to produce non-controlled substances and are not emitted into the atmosphere.
- Feedstock use of the chemicals is increasing, the report notes, now making up 95 % of the chemicals produced, measured in metric tonnes. Feedstock use is not limited by legislation.
Benefits for climate change
Many ODS are also potent greenhouse gases, so phasing them out addresses both ozone depletion and climate change. Scientific studies have estimated that the Montreal Protocol reduced GWP-weighted ODS emissions globally by around 10-12 Gt CO2-eq per year by 2010. This is 5-6 times more than the reduction of greenhouse gases expected under the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period, which is estimated to be 1-2 Gt CO2-eq on average per year between 2008 and 2012, compared to base year emissions.
About ozone depleting substances
More than 200 chemicals are controlled by the Montreal Protocol. These were formerly mainly used as coolants, propellants in spray cans, blowing agents in making foams, solvents and fire extinguishers. The Montreal Protocol covers over 200 individual ODS, including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).