The ozone layer will become dangerously thin in the very near future. We need to protect our skin from sunburn and wear sunglasses to stop ultraviolet radiation from damaging our eyes.
Ozone is a gas with a molecule comprising three oxygen atoms. Ozone can be found in the atmosphere at an altitude of up to 100 km, although the stratospheric ozone layer is concentrated at between 20 and 40 km above the Earth's surface. Its most important function is to protect plants, animals and humans from ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
Recent changes in stratospheric ozone
Damage to the ozone layer is caused by ozone-depleting substances (ODS), which are released as a result of human activities. These substances include:
These chemical compounds contain chlorine, bromine and fluorine and can remain in the atmosphere for between 50 and 1,500 years, depending on their composition. Once released into the atmosphere, ODS rise slowly and begin depleting the ozone layer on contact. One molecule of ODS causes the destruction of thousands of ozone molecules. The process may be slow and time-consuming, but the barrier that protects human beings and the environment against UV radiation is gradually being destroyed.
Measures to restore the ozone layer
Belarus supports the initiatives of the
international community to protect the ozone layer and was among the
first countries to sign the Vienna Convention, the Montreal Protocol, and other related agreements. In addition:
Commitments at national level include:
The consumption of ODS in Belarus is steadily declining: from 1,589 ozone depletion potential (ODP) tonnes in 1989, total consumption plummeted to around 14 ODP tonnes in 2008 and 10 ODP tonnes in 2011. The vast majority (95 percent) of ODS currently in use are refrigerants.
The country has established control over imports of ODS and products containing them. Ozone-depleting substances may be imported only on the basis of a one-time authorisation granted by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection. The handling of ODS is strictly limited to around 600 entities that have an appropriate licence.
On January 1, 2000, Belarus banned the importing and exporting of substances with high ozone depletion potential. The use of dangerous Freons decreased significantly due to new refrigeration technology and the transition to ozone-safe Freons.
The Law on Environmental Protection and the Law on Air Protection contain requirements for the reduction and eventual elimination of ODS consumption in Belarus. However, the primary piece of legislation for this purpose is the Law on the Protection of the Ozone Layer.
In 2010, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection joined UNEP's Informal Prior-Informed Consent (iPIC) initiative, a mechanism for the voluntary exchange of information on intended trade between countries in ODS. The initiative covers the issuing of licences for ODS.
Between 1997 and 2001, the World Bank supported the Ozone-Depleting Substances Phaseout Project in Belarus with a grant from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The project aimed to train specialists; obtain equipment for the detection and identification of ODS; ensure the recycling, recovery and destruction of ODS; and make targeted investments in projects to phase out hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) by replacing them with ozone-friendly substances and natural refrigerants in industry and agriculture.
In the coming two decades, despite all the measures that have been taken, the ozone layer will become critically thin. Although it is expected to recover gradually, the process will take around another four decades. During this period it will be very important for people to protect their skin from sunburn — especially in the summer — and to wear sunglasses that protect their eyes from ultraviolet radiation.
The World Health Organization recommends the following simple precautions:
Consumer behaviour is very important. Whenever possible, choose products that do not cause damage to the ozone layer. Look for labels indicating that products are Freon free and CFC free.
The following sources provide further information about how Belarus is addressing the problem of ozone depletion: