Europeans OK Pact to Limit Ozone-Destroying Chemicals
Eight European countries and the European Economic Community told the United Nations on Friday they have ratified a treaty limiting the production of ozone-destroying chemicals, ensuring that the treaty will go into effect Jan. 1.
The treaty negotiated in 1987 calls for signatory nations to reduce “consumption” of ozone-destroying chemicals, defined as production plus imports and minus exports, to 1986 levels by July 1 of next year.
A 20% cut must be in place by 1992 and a further 30% cut by 1998.
The chemicals affected are chlorofluorocarbon compounds--practically indestructible refrigeration fluids, foam-blowing agents, cleaning solvents and, outside North America and Scandinavia, aerosol propellants. They have found wide use because they are nontoxic and do not burn.
A related set of bromine compounds used for firefighting are to be frozen at 1986 levels by 1992.
The July 1 reduction will represent a sizable cut in actual usage. Figures kept by the U.S. International Trade Commission showed a 12.6% increase for 1987 compared with 1986 in production of the two most common chemicals in question, and most observers expect 1988 production to increase again.
These chemicals can last for a century or more in the atmosphere, rising slowly to the ozone layer 15 to 25 miles high, where their chlorine atoms are liberated to destroy ozone. Ozone protects the Earth’s surface from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun.
Each percentage point decline in ozone can represent a 4% to 6% increase in skin cancer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
These effects have led the EPA and many scientists to call for a revision of the treaty to ban these chemicals altogether, and several major manufacturers have said they will end all production.
Terms call for the treaty to go into effect when ratified by at least 11 countries, representing two-thirds of the world’s consumption. Although 15 countries with a majority of the world’s consumption had ratified the treaty before Friday, they did not make the two-thirds mark.
With Friday’s ratifications, “It’s certainly well above two-thirds,” said Martine Coursil of the United Nations Environment Program in New York.