Kofi Annan once called the Montreal Protocol to eliminate ozone-depleting substances: "The single most successful international agreement to date." Since 1987, 196 states - the UAE included - have ratified the treaty, making it one of the most widely-accepted accords in United Nations history.
That looks good on paper. In practice, however, even the best of environmental intentions demands tough enforcement, constant monitoring and political will. So far, efforts to police ozone-depleting chemicals are still lagging.
As The National reported this week, the federal law banning the import of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydro-chlorofluorocarbons for refrigeration has been largely ignored by UAE businesses.
Part of the problem is that government is not doing enough to enforce existing laws. The category of chemicals banned for import includes manufacturing materials used in air-conditioning, solvents and chemical foam. Yet "certain organisations are bringing [such products] in", conceded Stuart Fleming, the managing director of a local company that recycles refrigerants.
From an economic standpoint, the continued use of ozone-depleting compounds might make sense. Refrigeration and propellant processes that rely on these chemicals are cheap, efficient and are already integrated into industrial processes. Switching to more environmentally friendly materials would take time and cost money.
Businesses have their own interests in mind, and if dangerous materials are cheaper, the bottom line will dictate that they be sought out. When inducements such as rebates fail to bring industries into line, enforcement through stiff fines becomes essential.
We should, if anything, be hypersensitive to this issue. The climate here magnifies the risks of skin cancers, cataracts and other ailments associated with harmful UV rays.
As with so many other laws on the books in the UAE, these regulations are only as strong as their enforcement. In the case of CFCs and similar compounds, the paper trail is long. The UAE acceded to the Montreal Protocol in 1989, passed legislation in 1999, and plans to phase out still more compounds by 2015. It is time to stamp out the use of these compounds.