Nepali Times
Death rays

Representatives from 23 Asian countries met in Kathmandu on Thursday to mark the First Regional Celebration of International Ozone Day and to take stock of what needs to be done in the region to further reduce the production and use of chemicals that destroy the ozone layer.

"Countries in the region have made tremendous efforts to meet their targets under the Montreal Protocol," says Surendra Shrestha, the Bangkok-based Asia-Pacific director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Even so, illegal trade of CFCs has proved to be the biggest obstacle to the achievement of the goals of the Montreal Protocol in Asia, which uses up to 66 percent of the global consumption of ozone-depleting chemicals and produces 90 percent of CFCs.

Eighteen years after signing the Montreal Protocol to phase out ozone depleting substances, 188 countries are members. Since many of these countries are developing nations, they are being helped by the UNEP and other agencies to phase out the use of CFCs and other ozone-depleting chemicals.

By 1996 developed countries had stopped producing and using the most damaging CFCs, except for a few with medical uses. They are now working to phase out methyl bromide and HCFCs, which are being used as temporary substitutes for CFCs. Global consumption of CFCs have dropped from 1.1 million tons in 1986 to 156,000 tons in 1998.

Still, ozone depletion which is occurring at an alarming rate, is expected to peak, and then gradually decline by the end of this decade. If all member countries continue to abide by the Montreal Protocol, the ozone layer should fully recover by the middle of this century. The thinning of the ozone layer allows harmful ultraviolet rays through atmospheric filters, causing cancers in humans and harming livestock and crops. High altitude regions like the Nepal Himalaya are more at risk of UV exposure caused by ozone depletion.

With the approach of the Montreal Protocol deadlines to phase out ozone-depleting substances (ODS), shortages of legitimate CFCs have pushed up market prices up and encouraged smuggling. Illegal trade has been growing alarmingly all over the world. In 1997, an estimated 20,000 tons of illegal chemicals were traded worldwide, and the situation has grown worse since then.

Situated between China and India, Nepal has been a conduit for ODS. In 2001, 74 tons of smuggled CFC 12 and HCFCs were seized at Birganj customs. The contraband remains in warehouses while the government has given assurances to the UN that it will use parts of the chemical as per Nepal's Montreal Protocol quota for CFC phase-out.

"Nepal has committed to not allow further CFC imports, and releases only enough CFCs from its stock of seized chemicals every year for its domestic use, which does not exceed our Montreal Protocol annual phase-out quota," says Sita Ram Joshi at the Nepal Bureau of Standards and Metrology.

The bureau monitors annual consumption quotas and has established annual phase-out schedules of CFCs, HCFCs, halons, and other ODS. Nepali law requires all importers to obtain a license and it doesn't allow re-export of imported substances. Since Nepal does not produce any CFCs, it tries to keep track of the amount of ozone-depleting chemicals consumed and hopes to phase out CFCs 11 and 12 by 2010.

In 2003, UNEP held the 'Nepal Dialogue' among Nepal, China, and India in Kathmandu where the three countries agreed to share information on smuggling and production. They also agreed to hold regular meetings between customs officers working at Nepal's borders with China and India.

Consumption of ODS in Nepal is small, even when compared to the other developing countries-only 30 tons of CFCs and 23 tons of HCFCs in 1999. India's consumption is over 40,000 tons. But the rapid growth of agriculture and tourism means that the use of CFCs is growing, especially in commercial and domestic refrigeration, air conditioning and fumigation.

Phase-out of CFCs in Nepal are related to those in India. The availability of ozone-depleting chemicals in India and the production of ozone friendly technologies in India affect choices made by consumers in Nepal. Incidentally, the open border also means that it becomes difficult for customs officials to keep track of appliances entering Nepal. Says Dinesh Chandra Pyakural, secretary at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies: "Nepal's consumption of ODS is very low. As a signatory to the Montreal Protocol, Nepal has already started implementing the ODS phase-out program."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)