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Nations to ban ozone-harming compounds.

Nations to ban ozone-harming compounds

Fifty-nine countries took an unprecedented environmental step last week by consenting to stop producing chemicals that destroy the Earth's protective ozone layer. The agreement requires the United States and other developed nations to set up a fund of at least $160 million to help poorer countries in their shift toward less damaging chemicals.

The new measures significantly strengthen a 1987 treaty that required a 50 percent cut in production of only certain chlorine-containing chemicals -- a reduction that would not successfully protect the ozone in Earth's stratosphere. The original agreement, called the Montreal Protocol, was weakened further when China and India declined to ratify it, saying the treaty did not provide sufficient assistance to developing countries in the form of money or technology.

With the establishment of the new fund, representatives of India and China said they would urge their nations to ratify the protocol as soon as possible. If both countries join, the fund will increase to provide developing nations with a total of $240 million over the next three years, with the United States contributing $60 million. Until two weeks ago, the Bush administration had opposed contributing to this type of assistance fund.

Settling the questions of technology transfer and establishing the fund proved the most difficult steps in reaching the agreement, says Richard J. Smith of the State Department, who represented the United States at preconference negotiations in London. Last week's discussions were much more complex than those leading to the Montreal Protocol, he adds.

The new agreement requires participating nations to end production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons by the end of the century, whereas the 1987 protocol called for a 50 percent cut in CFC production and a freeze on halon production by 2000. Today, CFCs have widespread industrial uses in refrigeration, air conditioning and the production of foam and insulation. They also serve as solvents for cleaning electronic equipment and, in some countries, as propellants in aerosol cans. Halons are used in fire extinguishers.

Chlorine from such chemicals thins the stratospheric ozone layer, which filters out harmful ultraviolet radiation. CFCs and halons also contribute to global warming.

The revisions also regulate other important chlorine-containing solvents not mentioned in the 1987 protocol. Participating nations have agreed to lower production of methyl chloroform by 70 percent by the year 2000 and to end its production by the year 2005. They will also reduce carbon tetrachloride production by 85 percent by 1995 and stop producing it by the end of the century.

The agreement includes a nonbinding provision to phase out hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) by 2040, and if feasible by 2020. HCFCs destroy ozone, although to a lesser extent than CFCs, and many companies have been developing these compounds as replacements for CFCs.

Thirteen nations pushed for a CFC phaseout before the year 2000. Although they failed to work that into the treaty, they committed themselves to a complete phaseout by 1997 at the latest.

Environmental groups and several nations view the revised protocol as a model for future negotiations addressing the more complex problem of global climate change. Many countries argue that the industrialized world is largely responsible for ozone loss and the threat of global warming, and therefore must help the developing world wean itself from polluting technology, notes S. Jacob Scherr of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C. Negotiators from the United States, however, inserted language into the new agreement stipulating that the ozone treaty does not set a precedent for solving other environmental problems.
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Author:Monastersky, Richard
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 7, 1990
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