Update on the illegal trade in ozone-depleting substances

The ozone layer is a thin stratum of gas in the upper atmosphere which acts as a shield to protect the earth’s surface from about 99 per cent of harmful solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

  1. So vital is the ozone layer that, without it, most of earth’s organisms could not have evolved, let alone be sustained.
  2. The human impacts of increased exposure to UV radiation are well documented and include suppression of the immune system, cataracts and skin cancers.
  3. Plants and ecosystems are also at risk. Research has shown UV-B radiation can significantly impair the reproductive capacity and early developmental stages of aquatic organisms.
  4. In addition, increased exposure to UV light in terrestrial plants results in reductions in height, decreased shoot mass and reductions in foliage area.
  5. The Montreal Protocol has been widely lauded as the world’s most successful environmental treaty, having phased out 98 per cent of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) placed under its control.
  6. However, illicit trade in ODS began following the first wave of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) phase-outs and continues to this day, threatening to undermine this success.

Global demand for refrigerants has risen significantly in recent years, with peak hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) consumption approximately three times greater than CFC peak production. The scale of illegal HCFC trade could potentially be larger than that previously seen with CFCs. This briefing provides an overview of ODS smuggling and actions to combat illegal ODS trade that can be taken by Parties to the Montreal Protocol.

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