Declaring that their future standard of living is at stake, two major developing countries, China and India, said Monday that they want additional aid from industrialized countries before they are willing to sign an international accord to protect the ozone layer.
In strongly worded requests before delegates from 124 nations attending an ozone conference here, they challenged industrialized countries to establish an international fund to enable them to switch to more expensive but environmentally desirable chemicals that do not erode the ozone layer.
Until that time comes, they indicated, it will be difficult for them to sign the Montreal Protocol, an international accord that calls for a 50% reduction in the production and use of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, by the turn of the century.
Call by Thatcher, Bush
President Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher have called for even more drastic action, a phasing out of all CFCs by the year 2000.
CFCs are extensively used in refrigeration, air conditioning and industrial processes considered essential by developing countries in raising their standard of living. But scientists say they are also destroying the Earth’s ozone layer, which protects plant and animal life from ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
The positions taken by China and India are considered crucial to the long-term prospects of successfully reducing the threat to the ozone layer posed by CFCs. While the two countries now account for about 10% of the world’s production and use of CFCs, the potential for growth as China and India industrialize to meet the expectations of burgeoning populations is considered immense.
Just hours after the conference adjourned, the developing countries received a royal endorsement from Britain’s Prince Charles during a dinner for conference delegates at the British Museum.
In a speech that Buckingham Palace said the heir to the British throne considered one of the most important of his life, Charles said he realizes the dilemma faced by developing countries.
“While we simply must eliminate CFCs . . . we must not do so by forcing developing nations to forgo some of the benefits of industrialization which developed countries have enjoyed for so long,” the prince said.
“In this regard, the call by developing nations to the developed ones to provide tangible assistance, for instance through appropriate technology transfer, is a powerful one,” he said.
At the same time, the prince challenged political leaders to act promptly to save the ozone shield.
“Since the Industrial Revolution, human beings have been upsetting that balance (of nature), persistently choosing the short-term options and to hell with the long-term repercussions,” he said.
“It seems to me that countless numbers of people are looking to their leaders and representatives to take bold decisions now--decisions which our descendants, yet unborn, will thank us for--and not put off those critical decisions that will ultimately cause our grandchildren to curse us,” he said.
During the meeting, held at a conference center directly across the street from Westminster Abbey, Western nations said they are generally sympathetic to the pleas for assistance.
U.S. to Alter Aid Priorities
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William K. Reilly told reporters that the United States plans to “alter our priorities of foreign assistance.” More emphasis will be placed on urging the World Bank and other international lending agencies to take the environment into account, Reilly said.
Without being specific, he also said the Bush Administration will look at its own foreign aid policies. But he cautioned that in view of the federal budget deficit, more funds for global environmental concerns are unlikely to be added to the budget. Instead, he said, existing funds will be diverted from other programs.
Reilly said that Japan and the 12-nation European Community, which both enjoy budget surpluses, should also contribute.
Earlier, India made it clear that increasing foreign assistance for environmental causes at the expense of other aid is unacceptable.
Z. R. Ansari, the Indian environmental minister, told the conference: “Any reduction in these resources for whatever reason would mean that the poor of these countries will have to wait longer for the promised freedom from hunger and poverty. Today, the poor are no more prepared to wait, and there will be a social upheaval if they are asked to wait any longer.”
Ansari also charged that industrialized countries are paying little attention to a provision in the Montreal Protocol that requires them to offer technical assistance to developing countries.
“I would urge you to consider whether it is fair for the governments of the developed world to sign a protocol which contains provisions for technical assistance . . . but wash their hands off when it comes to the implementation of its provisions,” he declared.
Minutes earlier, in unusually blunt language, Liu Mingpu, the Chinese environmental protection commissioner, called for an international fund that would allow China to receive technology being developed in the West free of charge.
“Such an approach would be preferable to that of engaging in a futile exercise of imposing on developing countries still suffering from famine and economic hardship (and) telling them what to do or what not to do,” Liu said.
Thirty-one nations have signed and ratified the Montreal Protocol. On Monday, Iceland, Poland, Gambia, Turkey, Tonga, Brazil and Ethiopia announced they will sign the accord. Six other nations--Austria, Hungary, Malaysia, Trinidad and Tobago, the Philippines and Zambia--said Sunday that they will sign.
At the same time, the Soviet delegation surprised the conference by declaring there is insufficient scientific evidence to justify speeding the phase-out of CFCs as proposed by the United States and the European Community.
“Any decision taken under the (Montreal Protocol) should be well grounded and have a firm scientific basis,” said Vladimir Zakharov, the ranking Soviet delegate.
The Soviets said that the depleted ozone levels found over the Soviet Union were caused by localized weather conditions.
The Soviet view was roundly disputed by UC Irvine Prof. Sherwood Rowland, who, with his colleague, Mario J. Molina, first warned that CFCs are destroying the ozone layer. Rowland told The Times that between 1969 and 1986, the winter season ozone loss over Siberia and Leningrad averaged 10%, and 6% to 7% during that period over Central Asia.
U.S. officials called Zakharov’s statement surprising and speculated that economic concerns are behind the Soviet stance.
Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Science and Technology Subcommittee, told reporters the Soviets enjoy a special provision in the existing protocol that allows them to build a new CFC plant, already under construction.
“Then they pretend there is some uncertainty about the basic science, which there is not. . . . It’s unbecoming,” Gore told reporters.
Reilly was more charitable. “It’s an evolving picture,” he said of the state of scientific knowledge. He said the Soviets may require more time to assess the data.
But he concluded: “We believe in the United States that the scientific information does compel a faster phase-out of CFCs.”