We all have studied about the Ozone layer while we were in school. Its time to recall all of it and much more as we are celebrating 35 years of ozone layer protection. The theme for 2020 World Ozone Day is Ozone for life: 35 years of ozone layer protection.

Every year September 16 is observed as World Ozone day since 1985. This commemorates the treaty signed 35 years ago by 197 countries to phase out the use of the elements that harm or deplete the ozone layer at Vienna Convention. The dedicated efforts of these nations who followed the Montreal Protocol for more than three decades had resulted in the healing of the ozone layer. However, COVID-19 also had a significantly positive effect on this rejuvenation of nature.

In a conversation with The EarthView, Environmentalist and zoologist, Sarla Dubey who is also an educationist explained the significance of Ozone day. She said, "The ozone layer is a shield of gas that preserves the Earth from the fatal rays of the sun, thus supporting life on the planet."

She further said, "This stratospheric layer guards the earth against harmful rays of the sun known as ultraviolet radiation. Sunlight is important for the existence of life, while the ozone layer acts as a shield, which helps protecting us from ultraviolet rays. There are a number of commonly used chemicals that have proved to be extremely damaging to the ozone layer namely Fluorine, Chlorine, Bromine or Iodine, which are called Halocarbons. When chlorine and bromine atoms emerge with ozone in the stratosphere, molecules of ozone are destroyed. Also, according to research, one chlorine atom is enough to destroy almost 1,00,000 ozone molecules before it flees from the stratosphere. Ozone is rapidly destroyed while it takes several decades to be naturally created."

So, witnessing this incremental shriveling in the ozone layer, scientists working in the late 1970s realized that our actions as a society were creating a hole in this guarding shield and an alarm was raised around the globe. The hole is caused by ozone-depleting gases (ODSs) which are majorly used in perfumes, cooling systems such as refrigerators and air-conditioners. This luxurious lifestyle is tempting but it is compromising the quality of life of humans with diseases like skin cancer and cataracts, and also damaging the ecosystem.

To protect the ozone layer a global response was initiated in the year 1985. The governments adopted the Vienna Convention for the protection of the ozone layer. Under the convention's Montreal Protocol, governments, scientists and industry will work together to reduce 99 per cent of all ozone-depleting substances.

"It is also recognized as the most successful international environmental agreement to date. Therefore, September 16 is celebrated as World Ozone Day, to highlight the achievement made by the collective efforts of everyone," shares Sarla.

In the year 2020, since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic that has provoked such social and economic suffering and hardships, the ozone pact's message of helping each other and working together in harmony is the need of the hour. The slogan and theme for the 2020 World Ozone day is ‘Ozone for life’, that reminds us that we should protect ozone not only for ourselves as it's vital for life on Earth but we should conserve it for our future generations too.

What is the ozone layer?

The Ozone layer is a part of the atmosphere that consists of very high concentrations of gas made of three oxygen atoms O3, Ozone. Whereas, Oxygen molecules present in our nature consist of a pair of oxygen atoms O2. The Ozone layer lies between 10km to 40km above the ground of the earth in the Stratosphere. It comprises more than 90 per cent of all the ozone present in our atmosphere.

Explaining the formation of the Ozone layer, Sarla said, "The Ozone layer is formed when molecules of oxygen are broken down by the ultra-violet (UV) rays of the sun in the stratosphere. This results in the collaboration of some of the reactive oxygen atoms with individual molecules to form ozone."

She adds, "The layer that safeguards Earth from Sun's harmful UV rays is acknowledged by the term 'good ozone'. There is also the existence of 'bad ozone' formed in the Troposphere, which accounts to harm the animals, plants, and human beings. This bad ozone is the result of abundance release of Carbon gases from the ground as pollution from industries, cars, refineries, and chemical plants."

The British Antarctic Survey first discovered the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica in 1985. This hole was formed due to the excessive use of CFCs. Thereafter, the treaty was signed and the Montreal Protocol was placed along with other smaller efforts that have benefited to heal the ozone layer.

Among all other gases and chemicals, HCFCs are the most potent in causing destruction. Unlike CFCs, most HCFCs emerge in the lower part of the atmosphere. It also poses smaller risk for the ozone layer. Though, they are extremely potent greenhouse gases. HCFCs are almost 2,000 times more vigorous than carbon dioxide that contribute to global warming.

Montreal Protocol:

The main motive for the Montreal Protocol is to conserve the ozone layer through norms and policies for controlling the global generation and consumption of elements that deplete it with the absolute purpose of elimination of those substances based on advancements in scientific knowledge. The Protocol aims to control nearly 100 chemicals and the treaty had set several lists for the restraint on production and consumption of these substances.

The plan for eliminating the use of HCFCs was particularly relaxed due to their lower ozone-depletion capacities and even they were used as transitional alternatives for CFCs.

Finally in 1992, plans to phase out HCFCs were scheduled for developed and developing countries. In 2007, governments enforced the Montreal Protocol and decided to boost the phase-out of HCFC for both developed and developing countries.

How we can stop the depletion of the Ozone layer:

Sarla suggests some methods that can be adopted to reduce pollution and ultimately protect the Ozone layer.

  • We can buy air-conditioners, refrigerators and other appliances that avert the use of HCFCs.

  • Buy perfumes or any aerosol products, which avoids propellants like CFC's.

  • A regular check on the appliances should be done, to assure there is no leakage of gases.

  • Replacing HCFCs products should be considered despite retrofitting.

Sarla concludes, "The elimination or the controlled uses of ozone-depleting substances and the relevant abolition of gases not only helps in nurturing the ozone layer for the future generations but greatly ratifies the global efforts for addressing climate change. Besides, it also facilitates human health and ecosystems by restricting the fatal ultraviolet radiation from reaching Earth."

Written By: Manoj Khetan