Dr. Mayarani Praharaj, College of Engineering and Technology, Bhubaneswar, India
The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was established in December 1992, tasked with ensuring effective follow-up to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Since 1993, the CSD has convened annual multilateral discussions on a vast array of issues that intersect the three interdependent “pillars” of sustainable development – the social, economic and environmental.
With renewed interest generated by the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) and the 2015 deadline looming for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the international community is gearing up to agreeing a new global agenda which better addresses all three dimensions of sustainable development.
Nevertheless, there are still over two years to go before the existing framework expires, therefore governments and stakeholders alike must remain focused on achieving the MDGs. In this regard, under MDG 7 (ensure environmental sustainability), there is a target to ‘Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources.’ One area that should be included under this is the protection of the ozone layer.
From the early 1970s, scientists were aware of the possibility that human actions could deplete the ozone layer, leading to damaging impacts on humans and the biosphere. The CFCs used as refrigerants, insulators and cleaning agents were identified as some of the most destructive agents, and the international community reacted promptly to this scientific evidence, leading to the 1987 adoption of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The Montreal Protocol has a clear and detailed compliance regime under which each party is required to report to the Ozone Secretariat its annual production and consumption of ODS. This data is used to measure ODS reductions against baseline data and therefore assess whether countries are meeting their phase-out obligations, and also contribute to the determination of “developing country” status.
The CSD has to date played an important role in the implementation of sustainable development at the national level, including regarding measures to protect the ozone layer. The UN Secretary-General’s report on Protection of the Atmosphere for CSD4 in 1996, for example, noted that the substantive prescriptions of the 1987 Montreal Protocol make it a landmark for international cooperation which embodies many of the core principles of Agenda 21. The report identified the Protocol as a good example of the precautionary principle in action, noted the marked decrease in overall production and consumption of ozone depleting substances (ODSs), but also drew attention to the issue of illegal trade in chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and the continued increase in CFC consumption in some countries.
The CSD also played a key role in the development of evidence-based indicators to track progress and support decision-making on the issue. An Intergovernmental Working Group on the Advancement of Environmental Statistics prepared a paper on Environmental Indicators for CSD in 1995. At the same CSD session, the creation of a menu of Agenda 21 indicators was proposed, also including the “consumption of ODS”, along with the development of methodology sheets which could then be used voluntarily by Member States.
India – Party to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer – is one of the countries that has felt the benefit of this work. India’s Ozone Depleting Substances (Regulation and Control) Rules, brought in in 2000, provide a comprehensive set of regulations to control and monitor production and use of ODS in the country. India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has over the years been executing a nation-wide initiative known as National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP). Annual average concentrations of sulfur oxide (SOx) levels today are within the prescribed National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) in almost all domestic territories. This reduction from earlier levels is due to various measures taken, including for example, the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) in public transport in Delhi, the reduction of sulphur in diesel and use of liquid petroleum gas (LPG) instead of coal as a domestic fuel.
This significant progress is a useful indicator to protect ozone depletion and boost sustainable development in future, and provides lessons that we can learn from.