When negotiators of different countries get together for the first United Nations climate talks of the year in Bangkok from April 3 to 8, the World Metrological Organization (WMO) gave them a reason to act.
The UN weather agency said on Tuesday that the protective ozone layer over the Arctic has thinned about 40 percent from the beginning of the winter to late March, a record loss. The highest winter ozone loss previously recorded was about 30 percent.
WMO's Secretary-General Michel Jarraud warned that the Arctic stratosphere continues to be vulnerable to ozone destruction caused by ozone-depleting substances linked to human activities.
Atmospheric scientists focus on the Arctic because the effects of global warming are expected to be noticeable there first.
There are three main contributors to the ozone problem: human activity, natural sources, and volcanic eruptions. But it is human activity that is by far the most prevalent and destructive cause of ozone depletion.
Scientists and environmentalists from around the world are worried about the rapid deterioration of the ozone layer, about 25 kilometers above the Earth's surface, which acts a cover to protect us from harmful ultraviolet rays.
The depletion of ozone is primarily caused by ozone destructive gases that are produced by industries and other sources of pollutants including chlorofluorocarbons or CFC's that are used in air-conditioning. The fast disappearance of forests and watersheds likewise continues to take its toll on climate.
Some known effects of ozone layer depletion include skin cancer and cataracts, while increased ultraviolet radiation may cause plant diseases and kill plankton, which are among the life supporting marine micro-organisms.
Hopefully, the WMO's latest report will sound the alert to the negotiators in Bangkok. They are expected to be seeking to build on an accord reached in the Mexican resort of Cancun in December last year that infused cautious optimism into the often tortuous UN process aimed at tackling climate change.
A key goal of the Bangkok talks is to set out a work plan for the year so that countries can arrive in Durban, South Africa for the UN's annual climate summit in November with the possibility of making concrete and substantial agreements.
We are collectively responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer. All countries should educate their citizens to plant trees and stop deforestation. Governments should encourage the devising and implementation of ways to stop using ozone-depleting substances.
The ozone layer is important to all inhabitants of the Earth. It is therefore incumbent upon us to find ways and means to preserve it for our own benefit and for the following generations.
As the problem is urgent, we cannot afford to wait.
(China Daily 04/07/2011 page8)