As the world celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol, a key meeting of 24 countries of South and Southeast Asia and the Pacific region began here with satisfaction in protecting and restoring the ozone layer and introspections about the climatic challenges lying ahead.
The participants in the meeting were informed that 85 percent of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) had been phased out while the remaining 15 percent would be nullified in time for the 2010 deadline.
Inaugurating the Conference at the YHS auditorium in this neat and quaint mountain city with refreshingly clean air, Bhutan's Trade and Industry Minister Yeshey Zimba highlighted the intergenerational equity, an important part of the proposed constitution of the country.
"This theme is in consonance with the environment chapter of the Draft Constitution and as Bhutan marches into democracy, this fundamental principle will guide the state policy towards the road to sustainable development," he said.
"Environment is one of the four pillars of our development philosophy of Gross National Happiness enunciated by His Majesty the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuk," Zimba said.
Bhutan's Environment Minister Nado Rinchpin told the gathering that the region faces the challenge of phasing out the remaining 15 percent of CFCs in time during the next three years.
"While 85 percent of CFCs had been phased out, it was a huge challenge to ensure that the balance 15 percent were also phased out in time for the 2010 deadline," he said.
Rajendra Shende, head of the OzonAction Unit of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said tackling environmental related issues is a challenge to be faced jointly by the international community.
While as CFC threat to ozone has been reduced to a great extent, the methyl bromide, exempted so far, poses a complex threat.
According to Shende, the consumption and production of methyl bromide in quarantine and pre-shipment (QPS) are exempted from the control measures under the Montreal Protocol. This is largely because the appropriate alternatives are still being developed.
The protocol's legacy has shown that when there is a specific phase out plan the industries develop the alternatives faster.
"Without a clear phase-out plan, there will be no pressure on the developed countries to find a solution which is ozone friendly. Hence we must try to get a deadline for phase out of methyl bromide as well," Shende said.
Shende praised the Bhutan government for its proactive and prompt action to preserve the environment.
Bhutan will become the first nation in the world where citizens will have a constitutional obligation to preserve the environment.
"We will be able to fulfil the constitutional obligation of Bhutan's government in at least the ozone issue where we will hand a restored ozone layer to our future generation in 40 years from now," he told the gathering.
He also termed the Montreal Protocol as a quiet revolution, as against the rather high profile but little achieving Kyoto Protocol.
According to Maria Nolan, chief officer of the Secretariat of the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol, another major concern is the production and use of HCFCs in developing countries is increasing at a considerable pace since there are no restrictions on their growth in these countries until 2015.
"Not only are HCFCs ozone depleting substance but they also have a very high global warming potential compared to carbon dioxide," Nolan says.
Nolan says that the sustaining planned decreases in consumption and maintaining zero consumption in developing countries is also an emerging challenge.
"The co-existence of legal versus controlled uses of some of the substances under the Montreal Protocol, specifically carbon tetrachloride and methyl bromide, means that there is a real risk of a cross over from legal to illegal use," he said.
"The current oversight systems will therefore need to be reinforced and to continue beyond the Protocol's phase-out dates if compliance is to be monitored and sustained."
Nolan also said that tackling the estimated 119 million vehicles being cooled by CFCs or the 500 million CFC refrigerators currently in use in developing countries.
"This phase-out must also be achieved without causing negative economic and social consequences, in particular to the smaller sector industries and workers affected," he said.
This meeting is significant as it brings together a region that is home to nearly 60 percent of the world population and also accounts for nearly 75 percent of the total production and consumption of CFCs.