ODS alternatives still worrisome


 “In 1994, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 16 September the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, commemorating the date of the signing, in 1987, of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone.

States were invited to devote the day to promote activities in accordance with the objectives of the protocol and its amendments. The ozone layer, a fragile shield of gas, protects the Earth from the harmful portion of the rays of the sun, thus helping preserve life on the planet.

As Malawi joins the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day for the Preservation of Ozone Layer on Friday September 16, much attention will focus on how to deal with the use of alternative gases to those with ozone depleting substances (ODS).


Although Malawi phased out the use of some gases with ODS, the alternative gases recommended for use in some industries are said to be a threat to other aspects of the natural environment.

More than a decade ago, the country and the rest of world eliminated target chemical substances whose release and presence in the atmosphere destroy a thin layer of gas called ozone.

This process was in line with Vienna Convention and Montreal Protocol, United Nations treaties on controlling the production and consumption of ozone depleting substances to which Malawi is a signatory.


In the process of phasing out some of the natural gases, countries promoted the use of alternative gases which are in the form of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and Hydrocarbons (HCs).

HFCs and HCs replaced gases like Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which were used as coolants in refrigeration and foam manufacturing industries.

But while the alternative gases are not harmful to ozone layer, their presence in the atmosphere poses threats to other elements of the environment.

“HFCs have a minimal threat to ozone because of their low depleting potential but they are powerful greenhouse gases (GHGs) which are fatal to climate change and global warming,” says John Makwenda, Environmental Inspector at Environmental Affairs Department under the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining.

According to Makwenda, the majority of air conditioners in Malawi are using R22 gas which is an HFC. The other gases like R4a, R47 and HC like R600a are used for cold rooms in different companies, domestic refrigeration and industrial chillers.

Apart from having direct threat to the environment, some of the gases like HC also pose a threat to human safety.

“HC is a flammable gas and difficult to work with if one is not properly trained and they can blow if stored i n place without proper ventilations,” Makwenda says.

With the current set up brought by the alternative gases, the theme of this year’s International Ozone Day is expected to put into perspective how best to deal with these gases.

This year’s theme is “Ozone and climate: Restored by a world united” with a tagline “Working towards reducing global-warming HFCs under the Montreal Protocol”.

In his message for this year’s commemoration, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says now is the time to strengthen climate protection by harnessing the power of the Montreal Protocol and make progress in slowing the near-term warming caused by HFCs, the fastest growing of the greenhouse gases.

“Phasing down HFCs would provide considerable benefits. It would avoid up to half a degree of global warming by the end of this century,” Ki-moon says.

He adds that it could also significantly improve the energy efficiency of some alternative refrigerants and technologies.

Under the Montreal Protocol, use of HFCs is set to cease in developed countries by 2030 and in developing ones in 2040.

Currently, there are ongoing negotiations internationally on amending the Montreal Protocol and next month member states will gather in Rwanda to reach a global consensus on phasing down HFCs under the protocol

“The amendment of the Montreal Protocol aim at aligning it with the Kyoto Protocol, which is the main greenhouse gas emission reduction treaty targeting HFCs,” Makwenda says.

While the issue of HFCs is being handled at international level, some member countries are putting in place measures to deal with problems associated with HC gases.

In Malawi, the Environmental Affairs Department is engaging key players in the refrigeration and air conditioning industry on the best practices of using HCs.

“Nationally, we are building the capacity of technicians on how best they can handle flammable gases like HC.

“Through the Multilateral Fund under the Montreal Protocol, we have the institutional capability to handle these gases. So in line with this year’s theme on Ozone Day, we are united to deal with the greenhouse gases that are under the Kyoto and Montreal Protocols,” Makwenda says.

According to the Ozone Secretariat at United Nations Environment Programme, this year’s theme recognises the collective efforts of the parties to the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol towards the restoration of the ozone layer over the past three decades and the global commitment to combat climate change.

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