10 October 2016

Africa: What Can Save the Ozone Layer From Depletion?

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech /Wikipedia
This GALEX image of the Cygnus Loop Nebula could not have been taken from the surface of the Earth because the Ozone Layer blocks the ultra-violet radiation emitted by the nebula (file photo).
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No doubt, without giving chapter and verse, in the book of Genesis, God, as the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe, delegated the authority to mankind to have dominion over the other creatures. Humans have been placed in a superior role and are to exercise control over the earth and its flora and fauna. Mankind was set up as the ruler of this world.

In other words, man is the steward of the earth, and is to bring the material world and all of its varied elements into the service of God and the good of mankind. Of course, this is a sacred responsibility upon every earth's dweller. Environmentally, we all live on the same planet and are ultimately dependent on the natural fruits of the earth for life-support, everyone has a stake in how elements of nature and natural systems are used and managed.

When a specific natural resource or environmental issue or problem arises, individuals and groups often disagree on the appropriate course of action to resolve the issue or problem. At the core of these disagreements are different values and beliefs related to nature itself, and the use and management of nature by people.

It is in this perspective that Rwanda hosts the 28th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, abbreviated as MOP 28, to negotiate on a hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) amendment among others. This is one of the highest-level summits to be held in Rwanda in recent days. The meeting reflects on the man-made chlorines, commonly known as chloroflourobcarbons (CFCs), which contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer and allow large quantities of harm ultraviolet radiation to reach the earth.

So, what is the relationship between Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFC)? Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) is an organic compound that contains carbon, chlorine, and fluorine, produced as a volatile derivative of methane and ethane, whereas the hydrochlorofluorocarbons(HCFCs) contain hydrogen, and is a subset Chlorofluorocarbon.

Broadly speaking, these substances compose greenhouse gases. Many CFCs have been widely used as refrigerants, propellants (in aerosol applications), and solvents. The use of such substances contributes significantly to the ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere.

What has Rwanda done to make an outstanding contribution? First off, its commitment is reflected in adoption of a Ministerial Order nº006/2008 of 15/08/2008 regulating importation and exportation of ozone layer depleting substances, products and equipment containing such substances, which, needless to say, regulates all matters relating to importation and exportation of ozone-depleting substances, products and equipment containing the substances (ODS).

Besides, key institutions such as Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) and Rwanda Standards Board (RSB) are in place, and serve as watchdogs, to ensure effective implementation of the foregoing Order and general national environmental policy.

To date, Rwanda is widely credited for its leading role in implementing the Montreal Protocol, exceeding targets and beating deadlines set under the treaty. As widely noted, this includes achieving zero use of chlorofluorocarbon (CFCs) ozone-depleting substances by 2010, a year before the set deadline. Following that, Rwanda earned a 2012 Ozone Protection Award by United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) for its enormous contribution to the preservation of the Ozone Layer. Being on the right path to implementing its commitments doesn't imply that the exodus is far from over.

However, a few things ought to be seriously done by all the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, including Rwanda. Quite obviously, at the heart of this commitment, countries need to be mobilised enough to adopt and implement measures that can mitigate the ozone-layer depletion.

First, industries have to play a central role in implementing the Montreal Protocol. It goes without saying ozone-layer depletion results from chemicals used in primary industrial processes, thus industry involvement is crucially important to the successful mitigation of ozone depletion. As such, this calls for the State Parties to the Protocol to further enact required regulations and to ensure enforcement mechanisms are in place and effective.

This implies that the monitoring mechanisms must be strengthened to ensure that industries are fully compliant with the regulatory and policy frameworks. For the countries that are seemingly compliant with regard to the Protocol's principles, they should keep their candle burning. But, for the countries that are non-compliant, they should face trade or economic sanctions - as a means not to embolden them to renege on their obligations. It has been proved that 'naming and shaming' of non-compliant countries does little to shape the behaviour of some countries.

Secondly, for the countries that are non-signatories to the Montreal Protocol, the only way to motivate them to accede to the Protocol is to give them economic incentives or benefits. Additionally, a wider advocacy for accession to the Protocol can galvanize other countries to take action. In so doing, much emphasis should be focused on the need to mitigate the adverse effects of the zone-layer depletion. Inevitably, the more the countries are indifferent to adhere to the Protocol, the more the adverse effects we will face in coming days. So, let all Parties to the Montreal Protocol set an example before enticing others to join.

The writer is an International Law expert.

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