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Cover Story

Widening the gap

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Oct 31, 1997 | From the print edition

The amendments to the Montreal Protocol made at the 9th Meeting of Parties may help curb smuggling of ozone depleting substances and ensure compliance. But they place a heavy responsibility on developing countries who have to move towards the use of substitutes and obtain new technology -- an issue that the protocol has failed to address properly

-- (Credit: Sanjay ghosh)ten years after the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was signed, it is being hailed as a success story of cooperation between policy makers, scientists, industry and non-government organisations. United Nations Environment Programme (unep) executive director Elizabeth Dowdeswell and Canadian member of parliament Clifford Lincoln, among others, spoke of it in glowing terms at the tenth anniversary colloquium at Montreal on September 13, 1997. While Lincoln called it "a model of effective partnership", Dowdeswell said that the "history of the protocol is an inspiring journey of international cooperation" between the various interest groups. For good measure, she added that there is no room for complacency, and the work must go on.

While no one would doubt the sincerity of such good offices, it does little to reassure developing countries who have yet to make headway in producing substitutes to ozone depleting substances (ods). A full decade after the protocol came into existence and seven years after the developing countries signed the dotted line, the fine print is becoming clearer. Compliance and smuggling of chlorofluorocarbons (cfcs) may be problem areas, but the development of substitutes and transfer of technology are issues inadequately addressed by the protocol.

The amendments made to the protocol in London (1990), Copenhagen (1992) and Vienna (1995), may have tempora-rily assuaged the feelings of developing nations. But, as far as the South is concerned, the situation in the long term is dissatisfactory. Not only are ods substitutes costly, but the prices of cfcs and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (hcfcs) have also gone up in the past five years (see graph: Steep rise).

Developed countries say smuggling (see Special Report : 'It comes and it goes', page 25) and non-compliance are to blame for this state of affairs. But the money sanctioned by the Multilateral Fund for projects that will help developing countries move towards the use of substitutes to ods is inadequate. Moreover, transnational corporations are either reluctant to pass on new technology, or place such a high value on it that money obtained from the Multilateral Fund is insufficient to set up similar facilities in developing countries. Even before the protocol was signed, observers had noted that the agreement was likely to promote North-South imbalance and prove costly to developing nations, which hardly consumed or produced ods at the time. This home truth is now coming home.

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