CFC phaseout timing sparks North-South row

The recent conference in Geneva, held to discuss moving up the date set for phasing out CFCs, got stuck over the question of aid to developing countries

 
Published: Monday 31 August 1992

PRODDED by fears that the ozone layer is being depleted at a much faster rate than reported initially, representatives of 56 countries met in Geneva recently and largely agreed on a proposal to bring forward the date for phasing out use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from 2000 to the end of 1995. The delegates reviewed a scientific assessment report, prepared by more than 100 scientists from 28 countries.

Mostafa Tolba, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), told delegates ozone depletion is now found even over northern Europe, parts of North America, Australia and New Zealand. "The prognosis, especially for human health, is grim", he commented.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol on CFC phaseout proposed a 50 per cent cut in the use of CFCs by 1998, extended by 10 years for developing countries. The deadline was amended at a 1990 London conference to a 100 per cent ban on CFCs by 2000, with a 10-year grace period for developing countries. India signed the protocol in May 1992.

The proposal for advancement was made, said Tolba, because "a 1996 phase out of CFCs, halons and other chemicals would speed up the recovery of the ozone layer by 10-15 years. There would be a million fewer cases of skin cancer and 350,000 fewer cases of cataract-induced blindness per year".

While delegates from industrialised countries agreed to an early phaseout, delegates of the developing countries at the Geneva meeting failed to reach a consensus on a corresponding advance in their phaseout schedule because the delegates wanted to ascertain terms and details of technology transfer and financial assistance -- and these have yet to be worked out.

Tolba said he would recommend to a ministerial-level meeting in Copenhagen in November a doubling of the special fund to assist developing countries to phase out CFCs so that it is set at $ 500 million for 1994-96. Third World nations, however, walked out of the July 13 meeting after Britain and the Netherlands suggested the ozone fund should be merged with the global environment facility of the World Bank. Developed countries have pledged US $53 million so far towards this fund, but only US $27 million has been disbursed.

A phaseout schedule for hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) -- a less harmful substance that could be used for an interim period during the CFC phaseout -- could not be worked out at the Geneva meeting as scientific information was lacking. Though methyl bromide (an agricultural pesticide used as soil fumigant) may have a deleterious effect on the ozone layer, developing coutnry representatives opposed its inclusion in any ban arguing that the data available is insufficientto reach any conclusion and a ban would affect trade in agricultural commodities.

There are already signs that CFC consumption has declined and by the end of the year, developed countries are expected to reduce consumption to half of 1986 levels.

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