More protection: UN says Earth’s ozone layer is healing after years of damage

This combination of images made available by NASA shows areas of low ozone above Antarctica on September 2000, left, and September 2018. The purple and blue colors are where there is the least ozone, and the yellows and reds are where there is more ozone. (NASA via AP)
Updated 05 November 2018

More protection: UN says Earth’s ozone layer is healing after years of damage

WASHINGTON: Earth’s protective ozone layer is finally healing from damage caused by aerosol sprays and coolants, a new United Nations report said.
The ozone layer had been thinning since the late 1970s. Scientist raised the alarm and ozone-depleting chemicals were phased out worldwide.
As a result, the upper ozone layer above the Northern Hemisphere should be completely repaired in the 2030s and the gaping Antarctic ozone hole should disappear in the 2060s, according to a scientific assessment released Monday at a conference in Quito, Ecuador. The Southern Hemisphere lags a bit and its ozone layer should be healed by mid-century.
“It’s really good news,” said report co-chairman Paul Newman, chief Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “If ozone-depleting substances had continued to increase, we would have seen huge effects. We stopped that.”
High in the atmosphere, ozone shields Earth from ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer, crop damage and other problems. Use of man-made chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which release chlorine and bromine, began eating away at the ozone. In 1987, countries around the world agreed in the Montreal Protocol to phase out CFCs and businesses came up with replacements for spray cans and other uses.
At its worst in the late 1990s, about 10 percent of the upper ozone layer was depleted, said Newman. Since 2000, it has increased by about 1 to 3 percent per decade, the report said.
This year, the ozone hole over the South Pole peaked at nearly 9.6 million square miles (24.8 million square kilometers). That’s about 16 percent smaller than the biggest hole recorded — 11.4 million square miles (29.6 million square kilometers) in 2006.
The hole reaches its peak in September and October and disappears by late December until the next Southern Hemisphere spring, Newman said.
The ozone layer starts at about 6 miles (10 kilometers) above Earth and stretches for nearly 25 miles (40 kilometers); ozone is a colorless combination of three oxygen atoms.
If nothing had been done to stop the thinning, the world would have destroyed two-thirds of its ozone layer by 2065, Newman said.
But it’s not a complete success yet, said University of Colorado’s Brian Toon, who wasn’t part of the report.
“We are only at a point where recovery may have started,” Toon said, pointing to some ozone measurements that haven’t increased yet.
Another problem is that new technology has found an increase in emissions of a banned CFC out of East Asia, the report noted.
On its own, the ozone hole has slightly shielded Antarctica from the much larger effects of global warming — it has heated up but not as much as it likely would without ozone depletion, said Ross Salawitch, a University of Maryland atmospheric scientist who co-authored the report.
So a healed ozone layer will worsen man-made climate change there a bit, Newman said.
Scientists don’t know how much a healed ozone hole will further warm Antarctica, but they do know the immediate effects of ozone depletion on the world and human health, so “it would be incredibly irresponsible not to do this,” Salawitch said.
And the replacements now being used to cool cars and refrigerators need to be replaced themselves with chemicals that don’t worsen global warming, Newman said. An amendment to the Montreal Protocol that goes into effect next year would cut use of some of those gases.
“I don’t think we can do a victory lap until 2060,” Newman said. “That will be for our grandchildren to do.”


China’s tech titans fight for cloud control

Updated 04 July 2020

China’s tech titans fight for cloud control

  • Tencent flexes its muscles in race with arch-rival Alibaba as pandemic opens new business frontiers

HONG KONG: For Chinese cloud services companies, the coronavirus outbreak has become a rainmaker, bringing in new business far and wide as firms shift work online, and authorities develop apps and systems to help contain outbreaks and manage social restrictions.

For Tencent Holdings, in particular, it has also become the perfect time to flex new muscles as it seeks to catch up with Alibaba Group Holding, its arch-rival and the dominant player in the country’s cloud market by far.

Tencent began to display a new level of aggressiveness after positioning its cloud business as a major area of growth in September 2018, and that has only amped up amid the pandemic, employees say.

“The competition with Alibaba is so fierce right now, the sales teams are fighting them for every deal,” said a source in Tencent’s cloud division who was not authorized to speak on the matter and declined to be identified.

This year alone, Tencent has hired more than 3,000 employees for its cloud division. And as China went into lockdown and demand for corporate video bandwidth surged in February, it added 100,000 cloud servers in eight days to support a two-month old product, Tencent Conference — a feat the company says is unprecedented in Chinese cloud computing history.

It has expanded use of cloud servers designed in-house, pledged to speed up construction of a digital industry center in Wuhan to handle cloud and smart city projects in central China and joined a central government initiative to support pandemic-hit small businesses with free cloud services.

The social media and gaming behemoth also announced in May it will invest 500 billion yuan ($70 billion) over five years in technology infrastructure including cloud computing — just weeks after Alibaba said it would invest 200 billion yuan in its cloud infrastructure over three years.

Poshu Yeung, vice president of Tencent’s international business group, notes huge interest in shifting further into the cloud from businesses and for online education.

“We actually see more demands, requests coming in,” he said in an interview in April. “It’s a good wakening call for a lot of businesses.”

During the first quarter, China’s cloud infrastructure services market grew an impressive 67 percent from a year earlier to $3.9 billion, data from research firm Canalys shows.

Alibaba commanded 44.5 percent of the market while Tencent, which started its cloud business in 2013, four years after Alibaba, had just 14 percent. Huawei Technologies also had 14 percent.

“Although Tencent came to the space later than Alibaba, I believe the company is willing to endure a relatively long period of investment cycle for this business, hoping to catch up or one day becoming the No. 1 player in this field,” said Alex Liu, tech analyst at China Renaissance.

Tencent’s cloud division accounted for more than 4.5 percent of its annual revenue last year while Alibaba’s cloud computing division accounted for 8 percent of its overall revenue.

Tencent employees have told Reuters the company is working hard to become more adept in business-to-business sales where products are often designed from the ground up for one client, as well as in government relations.

 Those are areas where Alibaba excels while Tencent’s strength lies more with consumer-centric products and design.

“Tencent has great genes in business-to-consumer, but in business-to-business, we either didn’t have product managers or we just hired folks with a business-to-consumer background so it took a bit of time to convert their thinking,” said a second Tencent source in the company’s cloud business.

Tencent declined to comment on staff observations.

One area where Tencent has gained ground in recent years is government contracts — a relatively small part of the market in revenue terms but one that brings prestige and helps attract private-sector clients.

Underscoring its determination to win tenders, Tencent in 2017 offered to complete a Fujian province government information platform project for 0.01 yuan.

From 2016 to 2017, Alibaba scored 28 cloud-related contracts for government entities, state-owned enterprises, and academic institutions, while Tencent landed just seven, government procurement records show.

But in 2018, they secured 28 each before Alibaba took the lead again last year with 49 compared with Tencent’s 46.