Montreal Protocol Talks on Protecting the Ozone Layer
Prague, 16 November 2004 – A ministerial meeting on the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer is to decide next week on how best to ensure that the stratospheric ozone layer – which protects life on earth from excessive solar radiation – returns to health over the next several decades.
The 22-26 November intergovernmental meeting will be preceded on Friday, 19 November, by a high-level Science Symposium. The Symposium will underline the importance of science for crafting effective policies to protect the ozone shield.
International experts, including Professor Mario Molina, one of the Nobel laureates responsible for first demonstrating the damage caused by CFCs and other chemicals to the ozone layer, will inform participants of the current state of the ozone layer. They will also assess the many remaining challenges to ensuring its full recovery.
The most high-profile issue on the agenda of next week’s intergovernmental meeting involves requests by 16 developed countries for “critical use exemptions” for methyl bromide, an ozone-depleting chemical for fumigating soil and controlling pests, beyond the total phase-out date of 1 January 2005. If agreed at the levels recommended by the Montreal Protocol’s expert panel, such exemptions would allow these countries to use approximately 15,000 tonnes of this chemical in 2005 and about 12,000 tonnes in 2006.
The meeting will also discuss the use of methyl bromide in quarantine and pre-shipment treatments aimed at preventing beetles and other pests from hitch-hiking rides with exported produce to other parts of the world. These treatments, which are not covered by the Protocol’s phase-out schedule, are thought to account for the consumption of approximately 29 per cent of all methyl bromide that could potentially be released into the atmosphere.
“Dramatic progress has been achieved over the past 15 years in eliminating CFCs and other ozone-destroying chemicals. But the task remains unfinished, as demonstrated by delays in phasing out methyl bromide more completely,” said Executive Director Klaus Töpfer of the United Nations Environment Programme, which provides the Montreal Protocol’s secretariat.
“Drawing on the best available science and working together with creativity and goodwill, the world’s governments and industries need to speed up the development and spread of ozone-friendly replacements for this harmful pesticide. This would send a powerful signal to both producers and users that there is no future for methyl bromide,” he said.
When the meeting considers the requests for critical-use exemptions, governments will be keen to avoid a repetition of the deadlock that occurred at their regular annual meeting 12 months ago. This deadlock required the Parties to convene their first-ever extraordinary meeting last March in order to resolve the issue.
The Prague meeting will also consider how to promote countries’ compliance with their obligations to phase out ozone-depleting substances. While developed countries have phased out virtually all uses of the most damaging ozone-depleting substances –
CFCs, halons and CTC – developing countries have until 2010 to complete their transition to ozone-friendly substances. The meeting will finalize the terms of reference for a study to estimate the level of funds needed to assist developing countries continue their progress towards a total phase out.
Another study up for consideration would explore the feasibility of developing a more comprehensive system for tracking trade in ozone-depleting substances. This could help to close any perceived avenues for illegal trade. The meeting will also consider two reports on activities for combating illegal trade.
Under the Protocol, developed countries agreed to reduce methyl bromide by 25% by 1999 (compared to 1991 levels), 50% by 2001, 70% by 2003 and 100% by 1 January 2005. For developing countries, the schedule started with a 2002 freeze (at average 1995-98 levels) and continues with reductions of 20% by 2005 and 100% by 2015.
The Montreal Protocol allows governments to apply for exemptions from the Protocol’s total phase-out requirements for certain controlled substances, provided criteria agreed by the Parties are met. In the case of methyl bromide, exemptions are intended to give users additional time to identify and adopt technically and economically feasible alternatives for eliminating pests in a range of crops including tomatoes, strawberries and melons.
Note to journalists: The Sixteenth Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol (MOP 16) will be held at the Hotel Hilton Prague. Journalists can pre-register at http://www.unep.org/ozone/Meeting_Documents/mop/16mop/16mop.asp. For more information please contact Michael Williams +41-79-409-1528 (a Swiss cell phone) or email@example.com until 23 November; after the 23rd contact Nick Nuttall at +254-733-632755 (a Kenyan cell phone) or firstname.lastname@example.org. See also http://www.unep.org/ozone/. You may also contact Michal Broza of UN Information Centre Prague at +420 257 199 833 (Prague office) or +420 724 020 611 (Czech cell phone) or at email@example.com