Montreal/Nairobi, 23 March 2004 – A three-day meeting of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer will consider granting exemptions to 13 developed countries so that they can use the pesticide methyl bromide for certain “critical uses” after its phase-out date of 1 January 2005.
Like Halons and CFCs, which were phased out by developed countries in 1994 and 1996, respectively, methyl bromide damages the stratospheric ozone layer. This protective shield safeguards human health and the environment from the sun’s ultra-violet rays. Methyl bromide is also highly toxic to human beings.
“Granting limited exemptions to the Protocol’s increasingly strict controls will ensure that the transition to ozone-friendly solutions does not cause farmers and other users of methyl bromide undue economic pain,” said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), under whose auspices the Protocol was adopted in 1987.
“Governments can minimize the need for exemptions through regulatory and economic incentives that reward the development and adoption of alternatives, many of which have already been identified. This is vital to maintaining the integrity of the Montreal Protocol – one of the truly great success stories of international cooperation,” he said.
According to the agreed phase-out schedule, developed countries reduced methyl bromide by 70% by 2003, 50% by 2001 and 25% by 1999. For developing countries the schedule started with a 2002 freeze (at average 1995-98 levels) and continues with reductions of 20% by 2005 and 100% by 2015.
The Montreal Protocol allows governments to apply for exemptions when there are no technically or economically feasible alternatives or for health or safety reasons. For example, specific Essential Use Exemptions have been granted under the Protocol so that developed countries can still use CFCs in Metered Dosed Inhalers (MDIs) for the treatment of asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases.
The exemptions for methyl bromide were first assessed by the UNEP Technology and Economics Assessment Panel (TEAP) last year. At that time the TEAP noted that the requested exemptions would total a relatively large amount. The Parties to the Protocol met in Nairobi last November to consider the issue but were unable to finalize a list of agreed exemptions.
The nominations for exemptions from the 13 countries total some 17,000 metric tonnes. Of this amount, the TEAP is recommending that 12,900 tonnes be approved. This compares with a total world consumption in 2002 of 15,073 tonnes, about half of which occurred in the developed countries. In 1997, total world consumption was 37,640 tonnes, of which 75 percent in the developed countries. This important decline reflects the fact that both developed and developing countries have found alternatives for many uses of methyl bromide.
The countries that requested exemptions are Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, the UK and the US. Methyl bromide is used as a fumigant for high-value crops, for pest control and for the quarantine treatment of agricultural commodities awaiting export.
Destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer allows UV-C and increased levels of UV-B radiation to reach the Earth’s surface. Risks include more melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers, more eye cataracts, weakened immune systems, reduced plant yields, damage to ocean eco-systems and reduced fishing yields, adverse effects on animals, and more damage to plastics.
The ozone layer is expected to stabilize and return to health in 50 years or so – but only if the Montreal Protocol’s phase-out schedules are fully respected. This week’s meeting of the First Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol will take place in Montreal, Canada from 24 – 26 March.
Note to journalists: The UNEP Press Officer in Montreal from 23-26 March can be reached at +41-79-409-1528 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please contact UNEP Spokesman Eric Falt at +254-2-62-3292, +254-733-682656 (cell) or email@example.com; or Head of Media Nick Nuttall at +254-2-62-3084, +254-733-632755 (cell) or firstname.lastname@example.org. Official documents are posted at www.unep.org/ozone/.
UNEP News Release 2004/13