Qatar and United Nations (UN) Pave Way for Environmentally-Friendly, Paper-Free Events


Paper-free or near paperless conferences may soon be in sight under a pioneering initiative by the Government of Qatar and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), announced on November 16th, 2008.

Paper-free or near paperless conferences may soon be in sight under a pioneering initiative by the Government of Qatar and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), announced on November 16th, 2008.  The meeting ran from the 16th through the 20th of November.


"Tens of millions of tones of C02, the principal greenhouse gas, are released as a result of the manufacture, printing and shipping of paper in the form of documents, publications and books.  The UN and its numerous meetings are no exception", Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director said.


Delegates attending an international conference on the protection of the ozone layer were issued with laptops and given lessons on how to minimize paper in terms of documents, reports and publications.


Special software was utilized which to allow delegates to share and amend papers during the six-day meeting taking place in the Qatari capital Doha.


The initiative was expected to save greenhouse gas emissions linked with the shipment of conference documents and publications to and from meetings.



What is the Ozone Hole? Each year for the past few decades during the Southern Hemisphere spring, chemical reactions involving chlorine and bromine cause ozone in the southern polar region to be destroyed rapidly and severely. This depleted region is known as the “ozone hole”. The area of the ozone hole is determined from a map of total column ozone. It is calculated from the area on the Earth that is enclosed by a line with a constant value of 220 Dobson Units. The value of 220 Dobson Units is chosen since total ozone values of less than 220 Dobson Units were not found in the historic observations over Antarctica prior to 1979. Also, from direct measurements over Antarctica, a column ozone level of less than 220 Dobson Units is a result of the ozone loss from chlorine and bromine compounds. Image from NASA


Key Issues at Conference


The pilot came as delegates from over 150 countries met under the Montreal Protocol and Vienna Convention on substances that deplete the ozone layer.


Issues before delegates included destruction of ozone-damaging substances held in items such as refrigerators, fire-fighting equipment and foams.


Many of these banked ozone-damaging chemicals have climate change impacts too.  Large amounts could, without action, be released as early as 2015. This could lead to the equivalent of several billion tonnes of C02 being pumped into the atmosphere.



Ozone is constantly produced and destroyed in a natural cycle, as shown in the above picture, courtesy of NASA GSFC. However, the overall amount of ozone is essentially stable. This balance can be thought of as a stream's depth at a particular location. Although individual water molecules are moving past the observer, the total depth remains constant. Similarly, while ozone production and destruction are balanced, ozone levels remain stable. This was the situation until the past several decades. Large increases in stratospheric chlorine and bromine, however, have upset that balance. In effect, they have added a siphon downstream, removing ozone faster than natural ozone creation reactions can keep up. Therefore, ozone levels fall.Since ozone filters out harmful UVB radiation, less ozone means higher UVB levels at the surface. The more the depletion, the larger the increase in incoming UVB. UVB has been linked to skin cancer, cataracts, damage to materials like plastics, and harm to certain crops and marine organisms. Although some UVB reaches the surface even without ozone depletion, its harmful effects will increase as a result of this problem. Image NASA and US Environmental Protection Agency


Countries also discussed the sixth replenishment of the Multilateral Fund- which has so far spent over $2 billion on assisting developing countries to phase out ozone-killing chemicals and switch to less harmful ones.


Countries were to discuss a range of replenishment figures from around $338 million to close to $630 million to cover the coming years, including the costs of accelerating the freeze and phase-out of HCFCs -- chemicals that can damage the ozone layer but are now also known to contribute to global warming.


A significant agreement to the accelerated freeze and phase-out was made at the last meeting of the Montreal Protocol held in the Canadian city from where the treaty takes its name.


Countries were again be seeking exemptions for a chemical known as methyl bromide used for fumigating soils against crop-damaging pests.  However, the quantities of exemptions being sought are down by around 70 per cent from a few years ago.


Mr. Steiner said:  "The Montreal Protocol and the Vienna Convention are among the outstanding examples of international cooperation on the environment.  They have lead to a dramatic reduction in the production and consumption of chemicals that deplete the ozone layer-that thin layer of high-flying gas that protects all life on Earth from deadly levels of ultra-violet rays.”


"This week in Doha Governments need to keep that momentum up including the necessary levels of funding needed to complete this important work, including the challenge but also the opportunity presented for both ozone and climate from the accelerated freeze and phase-out of HCFCs," he said.


Mr. Steiner said the paperless conference concept would be another welcome and practical outcome of the meeting.


"I would like to thank the Government of Qatar for backing this inspiring idea and look forward to taking the concept forward.  If we are successful it could become a blue print across the UN and, who knows, perhaps one day we could witness a near paperless or paper-free General Assembly in New York", said Mr. Steiner.


Waleed Al-Emadi, a senior ozone expert at the Qatar Ministry of the Environment, said:  "In the United States alone there have been estimates that a 10 per cent reduction in the use of paper in offices could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 1.6 billion tonnes.”


"Less printing also means less ink, less use of heavy metals such as cadmium and less use of electricity.  Imagine the environmental improvements around the world if paperless or near paperless meetings and conferences can be part of daily life."


Paper-free UNEP Governing Council


The pilot is expected to lead to an even bigger trial when the world's Environment Ministers meet in Nairobi, Kenya in February next year at UNEP headquarters.


The Qatar Ministry of the Environment is planning to donate a large quantity of laptops complete with the special software while dispatching IT experts to make UNEP's Governing Council/ Global Ministerial Environment Forum as paper-free as possible.


Many delegates attending conferences also bring and return home with large quantities of books and reports.


A study by UNEP on climate neutrality, released in June this year to mark World Environment Day 2008, estimated that if every air passenger reduced their luggage and carry on items by 20 Kg it could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 2 million tonnes a year.


UNEP's exhibition in Doha was paperless and sported the banner “Are you looking for a UNEP Publication? We Left it At Home!”


In order to get delegates on the paperless path, UNEP handed out memory sticks and guides on how to download publications while outlining the greenhouse gas emissions saved by not carting loads of documents back home.


The information on the International Ozone Gathering was provided by UNEP, from DOHA/NAIROBI, 16 November 2008.



 Notes on Ozone from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Space Flight Center:



“The ozone depletion process begins when CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances (ODS) are emitted into the atmosphere(1). Winds efficiently mix the troposphere and evenly distribute the gases. CFCs are extremely stable, and they do not dissolve in rain. After a period of several years, ODS molecules reach the stratosphere, about 10 kilometers above the Earth's surface (2).

Strong UV light breaks apart the ODS molecule. CFCs, HCFCs, carbon tetrachloride, methyl chloroform, and other gases release chlorine atoms, and halons and methyl bromide release bromine atoms (3). It is these atoms that actually destroy ozone, not the intact ODS molecule. It is estimated that one chlorine atom can destroy over 100,000 ozone molecules before it is removed from the stratosphere (4).”


Link to the Ozone Hole Watch web site “…where you can check on the latest status of the ozone layer over the South Pole. Satellite instruments monitor the ozone layer, and we use their data to create the images that depict the amount of ozone. The blue and purple colors are where there is the least ozone, and the greens, yellows, and reds are where there is more ozone.”

Images and animations from NASA




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