Ozone Treaty Could Slow Climate Change
By Stephen Leahy
MONTREAL, Sep 17 (IPS) – Delegates from 191 nations are in Montreal, Canada this week to celebrate and extend the world’s most successful environmental treaty, the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer.
With 95 percent of the target chemicals now eliminated, there is strong support to accelerate the phase-out of newer ozone-depleting chemicals that are also powerful greenhouses gases.
In fact, many experts believe this meeting could do more to reduce greenhouse emissions than the more widely-publicised Kyoto Protocol.
Challenges do remain — the United States continues to use large amounts of methyl bromide, an ozone-depleting substance (ODS), and the economic booms in China and India have rapidly increased the numbers of air conditioners using replacement chemicals.
Delegates attending the 20th anniversary celebration of the Montreal Protocol and the official 19th Meeting of the Parties here refer to themselves as the “ozone family”. They came in the mid-1980s to tackle the recent discovery of holes and thinning of the ozone layer that protects every biological being from harmful exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Increased levels of UV in recent decades have been linked to higher levels of skin cancer, eye disease and other health problems in humans and many other species.
“The science behind the causes of ozone depletion was not very strong at the time,” noted Tom McElroy, an ozone researcher at Environment Canada.
“But the international community proceeded to deal with the problem because of the potential risks,” McElroy said in an interview.
Scientists Sherwood Rowland of the United States and Mario Molina of Mexico started research in 1974 that gradually established that two chemical families — chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs (found in refrigeration, air conditioning and aerosol propellants), and halons (in fire extinguishers) — were reducing the amount of ozone in the stratosphere. They, along with Dutch scientist Paul Crutzen, won the Nobel Prize for their work.
Rowland and Molina, who spoke to delegates on Sunday, said they had to develop a new kind of atmospheric chemistry, but the mounting evidence that ozone levels had fallen more than 30 percent over Antarctica alarmed some nations, particularly Argentina.
“In the southern part of Argentina, children couldn’t play outside because of the ozone hole in the spring,” said Romina Picolotti, Argentina’s environment minister.
“There was enough scientific evidence to act. You don’t need to be 100 percent certain,” Picolotti told IPS.
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