Custom officers play an “indispensable role” in the global fight against the illegal trade in ozone depleting substances (ODS) according to OzonAction, a branch of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

Smuggling of ODS which include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), halons, methyl bromide, carbon tetrachloride and methyl chloroform is a major problem which threatens to undermine the success of the Montreal Protocol, a landmark environmental treaty which phased-out the production and consumption of nearly 100 of these industrial chemicals.
“What majority of people don’t know is that significant seizures of these chemicals by Customs officers around the world effectively halted the destruction of the ozone layer and made huge contributions to combatting climate change. The central role that these officers play in the detection and prevention of the illegal trade in ODS is fundamental to the success of the Protocol,” OzonAction’s Dr. Ezra Clark said.
One of the requirements of remaining in compliance with the Montreal Protocol is timely annual data reporting, and ensuring that a country’s imports and exports remain within the agreed ODS phase-out schedules. Both these requirements would not be able to be fulfilled without dedicated Customs officers, she added.
They must also work closely with designated national authorities to ensure that imports and exports of ODS are only allowed to proceed according to the national ODS licensing system and associated import and export quotas for each specific controlled substance.
In the Philippines, the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), through its Philippine Ozone Desk, maintains strong partnership with the Bureau of Customs (BoC) in implementing and enforcing rules and regulations relative to the import, export, transport, processing, storage, possession or sales of ODS and its alternatives.
The country is one of the 197 signatory member-countries of the Montreal Protocol.
According to the EMB, the Philippines has already completed the ban on seven of eight ODS, and there remains only one group to phase out— HCFCs. HCFC-141b, which is widely used as a blowing agent, is the first HCFC species to be phased out in the country since it has the highest ozone-depleting potential (ODP). Total phase-out of HCFCs is targeted by 2040.
Since 2012, the EMB, BoC and other partner -agencies have been working hand in hand to hurdle challenges in the phase-out of ODS which include the proliferation of smuggled, unregistered or contaminated refrigerants, commonly found in air conditioning and refrigeration systems; the collection of unwanted refrigerants from service and junk shops, industries and even households; and the presence of non-accredited service shops and non-certified technicians.
These also include high importation levels of HCFCs, as well as the need to strictly monitor and control ODS that have already been imported or stockpiled, and which could be possibly diverted to non-quarantine pre-shipment (QPS) use.
An expanded partnership between EMB and the BoC is being studied in light of the Montreal Protocol’s adoption of the ‘Kigali Amendment’ in October 2016, which will require all countries, both developed and developing, to phase down HFCs following various specific schedules.
HFCs are commonly used alternatives to ODS, and while not ozone- depleting substances themselves, they are greenhouse gases which can have high or very high global warming potentials (GWPs) – about 121 to 14,800 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in causing climate change.
It has been estimated that this agreement will help nations avoid up to 0.5° Celsius of global warming by 2100, which very much continues the historic legacy of the Montreal Protocol. ###