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Parties Move To Protect World’s Vital Ozone Layer

Parties To UN-Backed Treaty Take Further Steps To Protect World’s Vital Ozone Layer

In a further effort to protect the world’s ozone layer, which filters out ultraviolet solar rays that cause skin cancer and other ills, parties to a United Nations-sponsored environmental treaty have agreed to carry out a survey on the use of a key ozone-damaging pesticide in food shipments.

The quantities of methyl bromide used by farmers for fumigating soils is well known, but the precise levels used to treat shipments of big commodity crops such as rice and maize and consignments in wooden pallets is unclear.

The survey is aimed at resolving these uncertainties and may be a first step towards controlling the levels of methyl bromide used in quarantine and pre-shipment. It will be carried out by scientific and technical experts to the Montreal Protocol, the 17- year-old international agreement set up under the auspices of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to protect the ozone layer from chemical attack.

Experts estimate that in 2002 the quantities in such use were around 11,000 tons, growing to 18,000 tons in 2004, but it is thought the levels are an underestimate since not all countries are supplying full and accurate figures.

The survey was among several key decisions made at the 16th meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol which ended at the weekend in Prague, Czech Republic.

These included requests for so called “critical use exemptions” for methyl bromide for farmers in the developed world, including Australia, Europe and the United States, who claim that the current alternatives in some places and for certain crops, such as strawberries and tomatoes, are not sufficiently effective.

Under an agreement made in the mid-1990s, the chemical is scheduled for a full phase out in developed world agriculture next year. In 1991 consumption of methyl bromide was around 63,800 tons.

The Parties in Prague agreed to exemptions totalling just over 2,600 tons for 2005 in addition to just over 12,150 tons agreed to at a special meeting in March this year. Based on recommendations by the scientific and technical panels to the Protocol, it was agreed to grant developed world farmers a total of just over 11,700 tons-worth of exemptions in 2006.

“The Montreal Protocol is without doubt one of the most successful, global, environment treaties and has been strengthened by the political commitment show here in Prague,” said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, which hosts the Ozone Secretariat at its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. “Indeed, I was pleased to note that throughout our discussions all Governments stated clearly that they had every intention to phase out methyl bromide and that these critical use exemptions are temporary measures.”

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