Nepali Times
Nepal becomes ozone friendly


Nepal is one of the 188 countries in the world that have signed and ratified the Montreal Protocol to phase out chemicals that harm the earth's ozone layer. But unscrupulous traders have been using Nepal as a trans-shipment point to smuggle these chemicals to India and we are in danger of being put on the non-compliance list.

Not only has this besmirched Nepal's international reputation but Nepali officials have found it difficult to convince the United Nations that it intends to adhere to its treaty commitment to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals by 2010.

It all began in 2001 when Birganj customs seized an illegal shipment of 74 tons of India-bound CFCs, the chemicals used in old model refrigeration units that are banned under the Montreal Protocol because they harm the ozone layer. The government expected to be congratulated on having made the seizure, instead it was blacklisted as a conduit for smuggled ozone-depleting chemicals.

The Montreal Protocol is one of the few international treaties that has been successful in stopping a global environmental threat.

Under it, developed countries agreed to phase out production and consumption of CFCs and other substances, while Third World countries were given time to switch to ozone-friendly chemicals.

All consumption and production will be banned after 2040, but even in the past 15 years scientists have noted that the hole in stratospheric ozone layer over the South Pole has stopped growing. It is expected that by the middle of this century the ozone hole will have repaired itself. Ozone depletion destroys the earth's natural filter against harmful ultra-violet radition that leads to an increase in the incidence of cancers.

Nepal's consumption of CFCs is very low and the smuggled chemicals were all bound for India through Nepali re-exporters who used the open border. But the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) is very strict about compliance and monitors smuggling regularly.

India's demand for CFCs and HCFCs is 40,000 tons a year and it consumes up to 40 percent of the total global production of ozone depleting chemicals and imports it from licensed manufacturers in Europe. "The illegal trade in ozone-depleting substances if left unchecked could undermine global efforts to phase out these chemicals," says UNEP's Bangkok-based regional director for the Asia-Pacific, Surendra Shrestha.

It took almost three years for Nepali delegations at international ozone conferences to convince the Montreal Protocol secretariat that the impounded shipment in Birganj were brought illegally into Nepal to be smuggled to India and the government hadn't issued any import licence.

"Nepal has always complied with the Montreal Protocol since the beginning but the secretariat has been hassling us because of that illegal consignment," explains Sita Ram Joshi, national ozone officer at National Bureau of Standards and Metrology (NBSM). The bureau hosts Nepal's National Ozone Committee to coordinate the kingdom's phase-out targets.

In 2000 when the government was planning to introduce the Ozone Depleting Substances Consumption (Control) Rules, which would make it manadatory for importers to obtain a license, there was immense pressure from traders. When the ministry refused, the companies filed a case in the CIAA alleging the government officials of corruption.

Thinking that the government would move at snail pace to implement the policy, seven companies-Jyoti Overseas Traders, Heritage International, Parmita Trading, Jai Sai Baba Marigold Traders, Binayak International, Krishna Nepal Trading and Samiksha Enterprises-went ahead and imported 74 tons of CFCs without the government's permission. Environmental investigators went undercover in Nepal and exposed the smuggling with articles and photographs in international journals, which was deeply embarrassing to the country (Read The Nepal connection).

The seizure took place just after the annual Montreal Protocol ministerial level meeting in Colombo in 2000 when P L Singh was environment minister. After his return, he ordered the seizure of any CFCs imported without licence.

The issue of what to do with the seized chemicals has also vexed Nepal's position vis-?-vis the Montreal Protocol secretariat. The cylinders with the chemicals are still in warehouses in Birganj, and this has been verified by UN inspectors. But following a decision by the protocol secretariat, Nepal will be allowed to release the seized amount without exceeding the country's permitted consumption: 27 tons of CFCs per year.

At a Montreal Protocol compliance conference in Prague in November, Nepal reiterated its commitment to an action plan to phase-out this annual consumption by 2010. "We put up a big fight, and asked on what grounds we were being put on the non-compliant list when we were being serious about the phase-out," says Joshi who attended the meeting.

Still not convinced, the protocol secretariat hired an international consultant and sent him to Nepal for inspection. Following his recommendations, the secretariat finally agreed last month to amend its decision and called for removal of any reference to non-compliance by Nepal.

The secretariat has also put on record that other countries could learn from Nepal's transparency in declaring seized ozone-depleting substances and commended Nepal for its phase-out plan.

"Decision on Nepal to be regarded as setting a precedent for other countries in similar situations," says the Meeting of Parties on 26 November. Even so, Indian environmentalists have not stopped citing smuggling of CFCs through Nepal as a big threat to India. Says Joshi: "If the CFCs are exported from Nepal, which actually is not true, the Indian customs shares the blame for allowing illegal trade across the border."


. Buy only 'ozone-friendly' or 'CFC-free' labelled products when buying spray cans, refrigerators, fire extinguishers etc
. Maintain appliances containing CFCs to prevent leaks
. Replace CFCs with ozone friendly substances wherever possible or retrofit
. While disposing old refrigerators, make sure the CFCs are removed carefully by technicians
. Eliminate methyl bromide as pesticide and switch to safer and more effective alternatives

The Nepal connection

Nepal's problem is that it borders two of the largest consumers and producers of CFCs. The main problem is India, and the open border is a haven for those who trade in contraband ozone-depleting substances.

Several years ago, some environmental journalists went undercover along the Nepal-India border to investigate the trade. They infiltrated the businessmen importing and storing CFCs, refilling them in innocent looking cylinders and transporting them across the border in Jogbani and Raxaul in rickshaws.

It named a network led by Shanker Todi who is linked with Nepali companies importing CFCs. The agency reported that he works closely with a certain Ashok Agarwal to smuggle CFCs into India via the Birganj border area. The CFCs are filled in 13.6kg cylinders which are packed in cardboard cartons and then taken to storage facilities in Birganj. The cylinders with false labels are then moved to Inarwa village near the Indian border at night and are transported in tractors and trailers by more remote and dangerous routes via Biswaha or Sikta.

Another smuggling route is in Biratnagar where smugglers decant CFCs from cylinders to larger 105kg cylinders which are commonly used in the Indian market. A Nepali company was identified as a key smuggler working closely with Indian counterparts. It is involved in importing large quantities of CFCs in disposable cylinders through the Customs Transit Declaration system via Calcutta. The Nepali company used to move large quantities of the cylinders and declared them empty after reaching the Indo-Nepal cross border. But it altered the method after 79 cylinders were seized in 2000.

Custom officials have cracked down on the smugglers but they change their routes and methods frequently and hard to catch.

Source: Unfinished Business Bulletin

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)