Environment Pollution & Climate Change

Know Montreal Protocol and Keep the Planet Cool !

Imagine building an igloo to protect yourself from the bone-chilling, harsh temperature outside. After getting cozy inside, you get bored and you decide to party by starting a huge bonfire in the middle of the room, only to expose yourself to the wrath of the nature. That is what human beings have been doing to Planet Earth from the late 19th century in the name of development. And In this day – September 16 marked as the World Ozone day themed KEEP COOL & CARRY ON: MONTREAL PROTOCOL”, we shall envisage a clean, safe and a sustainable planet for all life forms.

Refrigeration – Wonder creation turned Ozone Destroyer !

Refrigeration is simply a cheat code to bend the rules of nature. Heat is transferred from  a cold system to a hot system through “work” which is impossible in Nature’s rulebook. An extraordinary feat requires extraordinary effort and scientists did exactly by using “refrigerants’ which have very low boiling point. To quote the working of refrigeration simply, lets’ consider an example – you are drenched in sweat and you feel relieved & cool when the fan is  turned on. The fan makes it easier for the sweat to evaporate. The sweat grabs the heat of our body to vaporise, thereby cooling the body. In refrigeration parlance, our body is the fridge chamber and the sweat is the refrigerant.

Cooling has immense value – from storing foodstuffs to preserving sperms, modern world can come to a standstill without it. But the refrigerants used have burned a hole – quite literally.

The “O” in the Ozone layer

It all started with use of CFCs (Chloro-Fluoro-Carbons) as refrigerants which was seen as a wonder creation during its’ invention. Till the discovery of CFCs, Ammonia was used as the refrigerant for large cooling purposes. But using Ammonia for small, domestic purposes was very difficult. CFCs revolutionized cooling through their superior quality and easy production. CFCs, much like plastics, played the perfect child, catering to all demands from fire extinguishers to aerosol production and simultaneously burning a hole in the Ozone layer – The protective layer of earth.  The highly reactive Chlorine present in CFCs broke down the ozone molecules in the stratosphere. The importance of Ozone layer in stratosphere is well documented as they keep out the harmful UV rays thereby preventing incidences of cancer and other issues to humans and other organisms. The worst thing is that Chlorine acts just as a catalyst in breaking ozone. After breaking one ozone molecule, it is transformed back to Cl from ClO2 and is ready to split many O3 molecules again.  

ozone day 18
The highly reactive Chlorine present in CFCs broke down the ozone molecules in the stratosphere.

Montreal Protocol – Global action to save Ozone

Recognising the effects of CFCs on the Ozone layer, Montreal Protocol was put into action in 1987, which batted for complete ban of CFCs.  The term ODP – Ozone depleting Potential was established and is defined as the relative amount of ozone degradation a compound can cause relative to CFC-11 (Trichloro-flouro-methane).  Due to timely action, the ozone layer over antarctica is slowly recovering and projections indicate that the 1980 levels will be reached between 2050 and 2070.

As CFCs were banned by 2010, countries started using HCFCs (Hydro-Chloro-Flouro-Carbons) & HFCs  (Hydro-Fluoro-Carbons)in place of CFCs.

 

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Running from pillar to post

Just when HFCs were thought to be safe due to their ultra low ODP, there came another issue in the form of Global Warming.Though HFCs had very low ODP, they  have high GWP (Global Warming Potential). GWP is defined as the relative heat trapping potential of a compound relative to CO2 (CO2 has a GWP of 1). HFC’s have a GWP range between 3 & 50,000. Though HFCs represent <1% of total GHG concentration as of now, their increasing usage and high GWP pose a severe threat. Myriad processes such as refrigeration, mobile air conditioning, foam agents, aerosols, fire extinguishers use  HFCs which has to be supplanted with eco-friendly refrigerants.

imotforum ozone day
Though HFCs had very low ODP, they  have high GWP (Global Warming Potential).

Kigali Amendment to ban HFCs

This prompted the Kigali Amendment to Montreal protocol in 2016 at Rwanda which called for a  complete ban of HFCs. As per the amendment, richer countries such as the USA, Europe would reduce the production & consumption of HFCs from 2019 while other countries such as China, the African continent and Brazil have to freeze the use of HFCs by 2024. Countries which experience hot and humid climates such as the Middle East, India , Pakistan have time till 2028 to freeze HFC usage.

imotforum ozone day18 Kigali Amendment to Montreal protocol in 2016 at Rwanda which called for a  complete ban of HFCs
Kigali Amendment to Montreal protocol in 2016 at Rwanda which called for a  complete ban of HFCs

Cool Planet for Future

The prospect of Future depends on our present actions. In June, a shocking news came out that China’s Insulation producing industries have been using CFC-11 to produce Polyurethane foams. Incidence like these can undo all the hard-work of the past. Therefore, there needs  to be a strict vigilance to monitor emission of all dangerous refrigerants – from CFCs to HFCs. Eco-friendly refrigerants such as Hydro Flouro Olefins, Ammonia, Carbon-di-oxide should be promoted.

Phasing out of HFCs is considered to be one of the greatest moves in limiting the temperature rise to 2 degree Celsius. The world needs better negotiations and co-ordination between nations. Somehow, the Kyoto protocol on GHG couldn’t replicate the success of Montreal Protocol in terms of ratification and implementation.

In fact, the late UN Official Kofi Annan was quoted saying –  “perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date has been the Montreal Protocol”

World leaders have to work together to ensure a safe future. In fact, the late UN Official Kofi Annan was quoted saying –  “perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date has been the Montreal Protocol”. The mistakes of few men in a room can’t be  allowed to affect millions of innocents out there. Let’s keep cool and carry on for a sustainable future.

Sathes Kumar
Sathes Kumar is a graduate of B.Tech. Energy and Environmental Engineering. He is currently working as a Research Analyst (Climate Change & Sustainability) in All India Institute of Local Self Government - New Delhi. His interests include sustainability and green buildings and is also into anything which is interesting and thought provoking