In the evening of 14th April 2010, I felt as if coming out of clouds and finally getting clear vision. The meeting of the Executive Committee of the Multilateral Fund for the protection of the Ozone Layer that I was attending in Montreal, had just approved the guidelines for financing the projects for HCFC phase out in the developing countries. I considered that as major step forward to open the door to pluck low hanging fruits for the climate benefit. Clearly that presented the unparallel possibility of mitigating nearly 40 Giga T of CO2 equivalent globally. Compare that with the mitigation of just 1.5 Giga t of CO2 equivalent due to all the CDM projects approved till now. Great work indeed.
Then same evening, a bit later, I read on the internet the word which was spelled as Eyjafjallajokull , and pronounced , later I was told, as "AY-yah-fyah-lah-YOH-kuul." It sounded like a word that we utter to do magic tricks for children. But it was not. It was serious affair. It made the whole situation cloudy, murky, chaotic and totally uncertain. That in fact is the name of one of the volcanoes in Iceland that erupted on 14 April 2010 after a brief pause in the beginning of the year. The eruption spewed volcanic ash almost up to stratosphere. The air-lines security declared that it is not safe for the airplanes to fly across the ash that was spreading and rising fast. That led to closure of the airports in Europe including Paris. I was grounded in Montreal . What do I do? Do I read once more the financing guidelines for HCFC phase out ? Or master the pronunciation of Eyjafjallajokull ? And even if I do both what next?
It was time for my Montreal mooring! Roaming and reflecting on the banks of river Saint Laurent, imagining the British and French adventures 400 years back in the places close to Place Jacques Cartier, and in the Vieux Port (old port) along the quiet road of Prom du Vieux and Rue de La commune.
My favorite place to visit, if time permits, in Montreal is always the Science Museum on the bank of Saint Laurent. After visit there and sipping cafe in one of those historic cafes in Place Jacques Cartier, thought came to me that Nature is mysterious; it is also a dormant dictator. 'If you human beings on the earth cannot stop emissions from aeroplanes and disturb my eternal balance, I would show you how to stop your activities.' this is what mother Nature was telling us by eruption of the volcano. I spent 3 days in Montreal reading, among other things, more about volcanoes and its impacts.
Just one year before I joined UNEP in Paris , Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines on June 15, 1991, and one month later Mt. Hudson in southern Chile also erupted. The Pinatubo eruption produced the largest sulfur oxide cloud of this century. The data collected subsequently showed that combined aerosol plume of Mt. Pinatubo and Mt. Hudson diffused around the globe in a matter of months. Eruptions of Mt.Pinatubo and Mt. Hudson showed a 15-20% ozone loss at high latitudes and a greater than 50% loss over the Antarctic! Eruption-generated particles, or aerosols, that provide surfaces upon which chemical reactions to destroy the Ozone Layer take place. The particles themselves do not contribute to ozone destruction, but they interact with chlorine- and bromine-bearing compounds from human-made CFCs. Fortunately, volcanic particles settle out of the stratosphere in couple of years, so that the effects of volcanic eruptions on ozone depletion are short lived. I still have preserved the small volcanic rock of Mt Pinatubo presented to me by Ozone officer of Philippines when she met me .
Volcanic ash can also cause global cooling due to reflection of the sun's rays and also global warming due to addition of Co2. The Co2 emissions by the volcanoes are quite small as compared to what human beings emit. But story does not end here.
Some geophysicists in Iceland believe that the Eyjafjallajökull eruption may trigger an eruption of another volcano- Katla- just nearby. There are 35 such volcanoes in Iceland, which would cause major flooding due to melting of glacial ice and send up massive plumes of ash. On 20 April 2010 Icelandic President said "the time for Katla to erupt is coming close...we have prepared."
Well, obviously, finalizing guidelines is not enough. Nature has its own guidelines, which we never understood and will never understand. We have no time to understand them as we are obsessed with our own human progress!