December 4, 1999
Environment Conference Agrees to Help Poor Nations Protect Ozone
By ERIK ECKHOLM
EIJING -- An environmental conference of 129 countries here has
agreed to provide an additional $440 million over the next three
years to help poor countries stop using chemicals that harm the
protective layer of ozone in the upper atmosphere.
Under an environmental treaty signed in 1987 in Montreal, richer
countries have drastically curbed their use of substances that
deplete the ozone shield, especially chlorofluorocarbons used in
air-conditioners and refrigerators.
Halting the production and use of such chemicals by 2010 in
developing countries like Brazil, China and India is the next step
under the treaty. Since 1991, $1 billion has been provided to begin
switching to safer alternatives, with the United States providing
one-fourth of that sum.
"Significant progress has been achieved in the last 10 years,"
said Shafqat Kakakhel, deputy executive director of the United
Nations Environment Program, at a news conference Thursday. "The
developed countries have almost completely phased out
ozone-destroying chemicals. Now it's time for the developing
Ozone in the stratosphere is essential to life on earth,
blocking out ultraviolet rays that can harm health. The 1987 treaty
was based on scientific predictions, born out by the appearance of
a huge ozone "hole" over the Antarctic each spring, that
manufactured chemicals were dangerously thinning the protective
Officials of the United Nations and the United States said this
week's commitment of new funds would keep the treaty on track. But
environmental groups expressed disappointment that more money was
not promised and that stronger steps were not adopted to speed up
Because some chemicals keep wreaking damage for decades, the
ozone thinning has continued in the 1990s, even as total use of
major ozone destroyers has declined 85 percent. The Antarctica hole
has widened, serious reductions have occurred over the Arctic, and
detectable thinning has appeared over Europe and North America.
This week, the European Space Agency reported unexpectedly low
concentrations of ozone over northwestern Europe, with declines of
as much as one-third from normal in some places.
Scientific panels have predicted that under the treaty the ozone
layer would start healing in a few years and would be largely
replenished in 50 years.
Still, international officials and environmental groups have
raised several concerns.
One is new scientific evidence that a different atmospheric
problem, global warming because of the buildup of carbon dioxide
and other so-called greenhouse gases may slow recovery of the ozone
Environmental groups were angered by the failure of the meeting
here to further strengthen the counterattack. One proposal offered
by Europe was to develop an automatic mechanism for quickly
regulating newly discovered chemical threats.
The United States would agree only to study the issue, arguing
that Senate ratification might be needed before new substances
could be controlled.
Officials at the meeting also expressed concern about the
continued sale of products with chlorofluorocarbons-containing from
developed countries, where they are now illegal, to less developed
countries, and the smuggling of products outlawed under the treaty.