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Antarctic ozone hole as big as ever

Nairobi/New York, 17 November 1999 - The ozone "hole" in the Antarctic is as big as ever, cautioned the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today. The hole covers an area of 22 million quare kilometres - an expanse more than twice the size of mainland China.

"The progress being made to repair this seemingly irrevocable damage to the Earth's stratosphere is due in great part to the research undertaken by scientists around the globe, including the winner of this year's UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize, Professor Mario Molina", says UNEP Executive Director, Klaus Toepfer.

This recognition bestowed upon Professor Molina comes barely two weeks prior to the ozone meeting scheduled to take place in Beijing from 29 November to 3 December 1999 when 172 countries will come together to agree on funding for eliminating chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and ozone-destroying chemicals.

At the meeting in Beijing, member countries of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer will decide on how best to replenish the Multilateral Fund over the next three years. The Fund makes it possible for developing countries to meet their treaty commitments, including the phasing out of CFCs and halons by the year 2010. Consideration will also be given to further strengthening the Protocol as it relates to hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and Methyl Bromide.

The ozone layer over different parts of the world is being monitored systematically. Since 1990, the Antarctic hole phenomenon has occurred every year.

According to the Scientific Assessment Panel of the Montreal Protocol, the ozone layer is projected to recover to pre-1980 levels in the year 2050. This will occur only if the Montreal Protocol is implemented and if all countries completely phase out the consumption of ozone-depleting chemicals. Since 1986, the total consumption of CFCs has fallen by 84 per cent globally, and in industrialized countries by 97 per cent.

Last year, the peak summertime levels of ultraviolet (UV-B) radiation measured in New Zealand were about 12 per cent more than 10 years ago when measurements began. Ozone losses from 1979 to 1997 were about five per cent per decade for the northern mid-latitudes in winter and spring, three per cent for the northern mid-latitude in summer and fall, and five per cent in all seasons in the southern mid-latitudes.

"Scientists like Professor Molina and international organizations, like the World Meteorological Organization have greatly contributed to the assessment of the problem. If progress is to continue, commitment and action on the part of signatory countries of the Montreal Protocol must increase", adds Toepfer.

Note: The depletion of the ozone layer allows more UV-B radiation to reach the surface of the Earth. The increase in UV-B radiation has potentially harmful effects on human and animal health, on plants, on aquatic life, and on plastics. Excessive UV-B radiation may lead to skin cancer, eye cataracts and loss of immunity in humans.

Prompt action by the United nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in cooperation with other United Nations organizations led to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in 1987. The Protocol mandates phase-out of 95 ozone-depleting chemicals by all countries according to a time schedule.

For more information, please contact:
Rajendra M. Shende,
UNEP TIE Energy and OzonAction Unit,
Tour Mirbeau, 39-43 quai Andre Citroen, Paris 75739 cedex 15, France
or Tel.: (33 1); Fax (33 1) 44 37.14.74;
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman and Director of Communications and Public Information,
P.O. Box 30552,
Nairobi, Kenya.
Tel.: (254-2) 623292; Fax: 623692;

UNEP News Release 1999/126

Wednesday 17 Nov 1999
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