Protecting the Ozone Layer

Microelectronics International

ISSN: 1356-5362

Article publication date: 1 April 2003




Ellis, B. (2003), "Protecting the Ozone Layer", Microelectronics International, Vol. 20 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2003, MCB UP Limited

Protecting the Ozone Layer

Protecting the Ozone Layer

Stephen O. Andersen and K. Madhava SarmaEarthscan Publications Limited, LondonISBN 1-85383-905-1xxix + 513 pp., hardback£40.00

Keywords: Ozone layer

It is probable that no single incident has hit the printed circuit assembly industry and, to a lesser extent, the printed circuit fabrication industry with such effect since the invention of wave soldering, as did the Montreal Protocol. Whereas, wave soldering was a welcome innovation, ozone depletion, and its effect of phasing out ozone-depleting chemicals, was initially seen as almost the end of the world. This book describes all the events leading up to the Protocol and have happened since.

There is nobody better qualified than the authors to write this authoritative and monumental history book. Both have been at the sharp end of ozone layer remediation, ever since it became an issue. Dr. Andersen is the co-chair of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Technical and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP), as well as being a Director within the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Mr. Sarma was, for many years, the Executive Secretary of the UNEP Ozone Secretariat.

This work, sponsored by UNEP, starts with a foreword by Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, who rightly points out that the Treaties governing the subject were the first major international environmental agreements and are a tribute to those who “set aside their differences and came together to ward off a common, potentially catastrophic, threat.”. He also states that this was the first application of the precautionary principle, before the science was fully understood.

At first glance, it may appear that this book is repetitive. As one delves deeper into it, it becomes obvious that this appearance is superficial and each of the ten chapters and nine appendices looks at the same events as a different facet of an irregular gem. Each chapter is liberally illustrated by “boxes” containing valuable additional information from experts, from throughout the world. The first one tells us how ozone depletion started as a theory and how this was gradually and slowly supported by scientists over the years, although the definitive proof that man-made chemicals were the cause was supplied only after the Protocol was signed on 16 September 1987 by 24 nations and the European Economic Community. In subsequent assessments, it became obvious that the original Protocol was inadequate and needed to be tightened.

The second chapter covers the startup diplomacy that led to the Protocol being signed. It started when UNEP was founded in 1973 and the landmark paper of the Molina-Rowland theory that CFCs could cause ozone depletion, published in Nature in 1974, was the trigger. The UNEP Governing Council, in 1975, backed a programme to look at the matter, and reinforced this a year later. A World Plan of Action was initiated to look at the science, the upshot on health and biological effects, the climate and other potential influences, in 1977. From there, the whole diplomatic scene snowballed into many meetings, at all levels, culminating initially in the 1985 Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. This laid the groundwork on which the Protocol was founded.

The following chapter records the diplomatic efforts that followed the signing of the Protocol, through various meetings of the Parties in Helsinki, London, Nairobi and Copenhagen, up to 1992. It is at this phase that the most important decisions were made, about tightening the measures for an accelerated phase-out schedule, introducing new controlled substances, starting financial aid for developing countries and many other innovations, many of them unique to international diplomacy. This is not to say that some countries did not do their best to protect their own interests, but consensus usually reigned in the end.

Chapter 4 completes the history of the diplomatic success, from 1993 through to 2001. The annual meetings of the parties were held in Bangkok, Nairobi, Vienna, Montreal, Beijing, Ouagadougou and Colombo. Many subjects were the cause of much discussion, often repeating themselves from year to year. As this period saw the beginning of phase-out programmes in developing countries [termed Article 5(1)], Multilateral Funding Aid resources had to be renewed. Another repeated problem was the introduction of new ozone-depleting substances that were appearing on the market. The Protocol dictated a complex procedure, ending in an Amendment, based on scientific assessments. This caused, and is still causing, undue delays, but agreement on an accelerated procedure has been difficult to find.

The fifth chapter looks at the same events from the introduction of ozone-depleting substances to the present day, but from the technological and commercial perspective. As this is in the middle of the book, 16 glossy plates have been inserted here, although not necessarily relevant to the chapter. These illustrate some of the entries to the UNEP DTIE Children’s Painting Competition, some press cartoons (including one which has been a favourite of mine for many years!), some posters, magazine covers and so on. The chapter itself is comprehensive and describes the fears of industry and others, most of which did not materialise. It is in this chapter that the specific problems of our industry have been recounted, particularly regarding military specifications.

The Protocol would have been meaningless had it not been implemented. Chapter 6 describes how this was done, starting in 1987 and going through the amendments of 1990, 1992, 1995, 1997 and 1999. The obligations of the Parties are detailed, including the financial aspects of the Multilateral Fund to help Article 5(1) countries. The Fund received 1.38 billion for disbursement, up to 2002. This money was mostly distributed to the beneficiaries through Implementing Agencies, in conjunction with National Ozone Units. Although this seems complex, it is necessary to ensure strict accounting. It is expected that the Fund will be replenished for the next decade. It is interesting that national governments have adopted widely differing procedures to effect their individual obligations. Some of these, especially concerning the dissemination of awareness, have been more successful than others.

Not every country has complied strictly with their commitments under the Montreal Protocol, unfortunately. The seventh chapter describes the problems of compliance. For example, the transition of some Eastern European and ex-Soviet countries from a communist regime to a free economy caused an economic setback that forced them to put compliance on a back burner. Some of these countries have since achieved compliance. A few Article 5(1) countries are named as also being in non-compliance. On the whole, compliance has been good.

Part of the success of the Montreal Protocol was because the public has been informed through the media. There was relatively little published about ozone depletion before Farman announced his discovery of what popularly became known as the “Ozone Hole”, probably because the whole concept of ozone depletion was considered rather abstruse and possibly of little importance, anyway. The media interest, as described in Chapter 8, started to increase around 1985 and peaked in 1987, probably because of the signing of the Protocol. Some larger peaks occurred between 1989 and 1995, possibly because some of the popular press forecast disaster scenarios of skin cancer, blindness, loss of immune responses, potential famine and so on. Since 1995, the media interest has been in decline; perhaps the public believes, mistakenly, that ozone depletion is a “done deal”. This is described in the book as “ozone fatigue” and is unfortunately spreading to some governmental bodies, even if they have not yet completed their commitments. The chapter is illustrated by the media response to nine “seminal events”, starting with the publication of the Molina-Rowland theory and ending with the Beijing Meeting of the Parties, which was reported to be a partial failure by some correspondents.

Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs), such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and many others, played a very important role in helping policy to be shaped at both national and international levels. The following chapter details this from the publication of the Molina-Rowland theory, where they acted as a watchdog and brought the potential problem to the notice of the public and UNEP. Although activist NGOs did take actions against some CFC manufacturers, as is illustrated by a few photographs (unfortunately, not of brilliant quality), they also made, and are still making, very positive contributions to the whole Protocol process.

The last chapter is entitled “Conclusion: a perspective and a caution”. At first, the initial part seems almost self-congratulatory at the success that has certainly been achieved. This is quickly tempered by an objective look at the realities of the issues, and the fact that it is apparent that we “are not yet out of the woods”. If we lack vigilance, a lot of the good work that has been achieved by hundreds of scientists, engineers, economists, governmental and NGO employees and others may become counteracted and the issue could come to a head, again. What is also very evident is that there are lessons to be learned from this wonderful achievement and applied elsewhere, such as the closely related climate change issue. This is summarised by a quotation from Robert Watson, Co-chair of the Scientific Assessment Panel of the Protocol and former Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, one of the world’s most renowned atmospheric scientists:

Although scientific evidence that human activities were causing stratospheric ozone depletion was quite robust in the late 1980s, there were a number of sceptics who said, “wait for perfect knowledge; there is uncertainty in the ozone models.” Unfortunately, the sceptics were absolutely right. The models were inaccurate. They underestimated the impact of human activities on stratospheric ozone. This means that with the Montreal Protocol and its adjustments and amendments, society will have to live with stratospheric ozone depletion not only over Antarctica, but over all of the globe, except for tropics and subtropics, for at least another 50 years. Some of the same sceptics are now saying that not enough is known about climate change.

The book concludes with nine very useful appendices over 120 pages, and a good index.

The title of this book underestimates its importance. I have many books on the subject on my shelves and I can assure you that this one is, by far, the most important, accurate (yes, of course, there are a few errors of minor detail, but of no importance) and useful as a first-class reference book. As with many reference books, it is more likely to give you insomnia if you elect to use it for bedtime reading. In places, it is not always easy to read, although the verbal illustration offered by the 40-odd outside contributors is very enlightening. Over the last quarter of a century, we have been living through a phase of history that is unique and this book relates this history from the start, through the efforts of the great architect of the Protocol, Mostafa Tolba and hundreds of others, cited as awards winners. Those who know me will also know that I think I have helped the effort to the best of my ability and I am proud to have so contributed and to have met some of the great men and women who have made this history come true. This is a book that is mandatory reading for anyone with an interest in the environment.


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