Ozone Layer Recovery Complets Global Cooperation

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, October 9, 2001 (ENS) - Accelerating protection of the Earth's ozone layer will be the urgent focus of governmental representatives meeting here next week. The 13th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol will draw some 400 delegates from 130 countries.

Under the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer and its subsequent amendments, governments have agreed to phase out chemicals that destroy stratospheric ozone, which is essential for shielding humans, plants, and animals from the damaging effects of harmful ultraviolet light.

At the meeting October 16 to 19, delegates will work to help governments of developing countries comply with their agreed phase-out schedules of ozone depleting substances.

"Despite the enormous cuts in ozone depleting chemicals achieved under the Montreal Protocol, the stratospheric ozone layer remains in poor health as a result of past emissions," said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), under whose auspices the protocol was adopted.

"To minimize the damage to humans and the environment caused by increased ultraviolet (UV-B) radiation reaching the surface, we need to tackle simultaneously all the remaining sources of these chemicals," he said.

While smaller than last year's record thinning, the current spring ozone hole over Antarctica measures 24 million square miles - the size of the Russian Federation and Brazil combined.


Record Antarctic ozone hole, September 6, 2000, the largest such area ever observed. (Image courtesy the TOMS science team & and the Scientific Visualization Studio, U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)>
An Arctic ozone hole has been widening too. Earlier this year, during the Northern Hemisphere spring, the ozone layer over the Canadian Arctic declined by 20 percent for a short time, while over Northern Siberia the decline exceeded 30 percent in early March. Declines of 10 to 12 percent were measured over large areas of densely settled Europe, and declines of six to 10 percent were recorded over North America.

Scientists predict that the ozone layer will start to recover in the near future and will fully recover some time in the mid-21st century - but only if the Montreal Protocol continues to be vigorously enforced. But they have warned that climate change may contribute to delaying the recovery. Climate change is warming the earth's surface but cooling the stratosphere, and thus accelerating the chemical processes that lead to ozone depletion.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), along with other chlorine and bromine containing compounds, are implicated in the accelerated depletion of the ozone layer. CFCs were developed in the early 1930s and are used in a variety of industrial, commercial, and household applications.

These substances are non-toxic, non-flammable, and non-reactive with other chemical compounds. These desirable safety characteristics make them ideal for use as coolants for commercial and home refrigeration units, aerosol propellants, electronic cleaning solvents, and blowing agents. It was not until 1973 that chlorine was found to be a catalytic agent in ozone destruction.


Image of long waves, bands of atmospheric energy that circle the Earth. They regulate the temperatures in the upper atmosphere of the Arctic, and play a role in controlling ozone losses in the stratosphere. (Image by Eric Nash and Paul Newman, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)
With the consumption of CFCs and other ozone depleting substances in developed countries now almost completely phased out, attention is turning to the developing countries. The ozone layer cannot recover unless these countries - which account for 83 percent of the remaining global CFC consumption - make an early transition to ozone friendly chemicals.

Developing countries are currently committed to a 1999 freeze in their production and consumption of CFCs. In 2002, they will also be required to freeze halons and methyl bromide.

In Colombo, delegates will review the first round of data and reports from developing countries on their compliance with the CFC freeze. These reports show that the vast majority of developing countries are meeting their commitments. For countries having difficulties implementing the CFC freeze, a special meeting will be convened on October 17 for discussions with their ministers.

Developing countries can rely on the Multilateral Fund for support in meeting the Protocol's targets. The Fund has disbursed more than $1.2 billion since 1991 for phase-out projects in some 120 developing countries.

The Montreal Protocol covers 96 specific chemicals. But the global chemicals industry develops thousands of new chemicals every year, some of which then enter the market. The risk is that some of these new substances could prove dangerous to the ozone layer. Delegates will discuss a long term strategy for ensuring that new chemicals are tested for their ozone depleting potential before they enter the market.

Delegates will work towards clamping down on illegal trade in CFCs and other substances. Millions of CFC dependent refrigerators, automobile air conditioners and other equipment are still in service around the world. Criminals have a strong incentive to smuggle CFCs and other banned substances across borders.

Governments are seeking to minimize illegal trade through better monitoring and through arrests and severe penalties. Efforts are also underway to restrict the export and import of used products and equipment that are dependent on CFCs and other ozone depleting substances as a way of cutting demand for these substances.

Governments are discussing the need for stronger controls on imports and exports, more training of enforcement officers, improved regional customs cooperation, enhanced regional networking for sharing information and experiences, and greater awareness raising to help buyers avoid accepting illegal substances unknowingly.

Related issues on the agenda include reducing emissions from ozone depleting chemicals used as chemical catalysts, developing national management plans for reducing halons in critical uses such as firefighting, promoting alternatives to ozone depleting chemicals, and critical use exemptions for methyl bromide to be implemented beginning 2005.