Loophole In The Ozone Pact
A decade ago, 110 nations signed a historic agreement to phase out the production of chemicals that were eating away at the earth's protective ozone layer. The 1987 Montreal Protocol was heralded as a model of how industrialized and developing nations could work together to solve environmental problems.
This September, delegates to the 10th anniversary meeting of the parties to the Montreal Protocol learned how badly their plan has stalled. Some developing nations have actually increased their production of ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and according to a study by the German government, consumption of ozone-depleting chemicals is declining at a slower rate than had been predicted three years ago. The ozone hole over Antarctica last year, which was the area of Europe, set a record for size and duration, meteorologists say. Yet industrialized nations are bickering over proposals to speed up the phaseout of ozone-depleting chemicals methyl bromide and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC).
To environmentalists, these developments are a sign of trouble ahead when environmental ministers gather in Kyoto in December to take on the far tougher problem of global warming. The agenda includes laying out a treaty to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from coal, oil, and other fossil fuels. Even now, the U.S. is balking at specific targets, and developing nations, which scientists predict will produce more greenhouse gases than industrialized nations by 2010, have so far refused any limits.
Unlike the controversy about global warming, there's no question about the threat that the damaged ozone layer poses. Science clearly proves that CFCs, used as coolants in refrigerators and air conditioners, eat away at ozone, an atmospheric gas that blocks ultraviolet rays that can cause skin cancer. Once the findings became clear, chemical companies came up with replacement chemicals faster than required, and the U.S. and the European Union stopped almost all CFC production by last January, as mandated by the Montreal Protocol.
"SLUGGISHNESS." But the protocol gave developing nations until 2010 to phase out CFCs--a tactic that several nations have said they will also propose for global warming. Some nations, however, have used the Montreal Protocol grace period to pump up production while they can. China, for example, raised its annual CFC output from 12,300 metric tons in 1986 to 60,000 last year. Earlier this year, China announced it would be unable to meet a 1999 deadline to halt production increases, claiming it needs time and money to find replacements.
Environmentalists who were once optimistic about solving the ozone problem are now worried. "There is more reason to act on limiting ozone-destroying chemicals now than ever, but there is a sense of sluggishness about doing anything further," says John Passacantando, director of the Washington-based environmental group Ozone Action. "It definitely bodes ill for Kyoto." And the world.