Healing the Ozone Holes Could Help Lower Earth`s Temperature

(Environmental-expert) Refrigerating and air conditioning today employ hydrochlorofluorocarbons , HCFCs - chemicals that by international agreement have replaced other chemicals known to damage the Earth's ozone layer. But now HCFCs have fallen out of favor because they too deplete the ozone layer and also act as greenhouse gases contributing to global warming.

Today in Montreal, representatives of 191 governments opened a four day conference at which they will try to speed up the phaseout of both production and consumption of HCFCs . They are seeking solutions that can both protect the ozone layer and help to stabilize the climate.

The governments are Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which on Sunday marked its 20th anniversary with a seminar entitled "Celebrating 20 Years of Progress."

Hosted by Environment Canada and the UN Environment Programme , UNEP, which is responsible for the Montreal Protocol, the seminar was held at the Palais de Congres in Montreal, Canada, in advance of the conference negotiations.

Participants from governments, international organizations, business and NGOs took part in the keynote presentations and panel discussions on the history, development and implementation of the Montreal Protocol, ozone science, and links with other environmental issues such as climate change

The chemicals originally phased out by the Montreal Protocol are ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs, and the protocol is considered a great success because industrialized countries have met their deadlines for CFC phaseout .

Developing countries continue to transition away from CFCs as their markets for refrigeration and air conditioning grow, and at the conference they will be seeking increased financial assistance to meet the requirements of the Montreal Protocol.

Achim Steiner, UN undersecretary general and UNEP executive director, said the Montreal Protocol is 'without doubt one of the most successful multilateral treaties ever.'

'The phase out of CFCs has not only put the ozone layer on the road to recovery, new research, published in March this year by Dutch and American scientists, also shows that the CFC phaseout has assisted in combating climate change. But,' said Steiner, 'the treaty's success story is far from over with new and wide ranging chapters still to be written.'

'If governments adopt accelerated action on HCFCs ,' he said, 'we can look forward to not only a faster recovery of the ozone layer, but a further important contribution to the climate change challenge.'

Under the Montreal Protocol, use of HCFCs is scheduled to end in developed countries by 2030 and in developing countries by 2040.

But scientists and governments are studying options for bringing forward the final phase-out by approximately 10 years, prompted by research indicating that acceleration could deliver cumulative emission reductions of 18 to 25 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Annually, these reductions could equal over 3.5 percent of all the world's current greenhouse emissions.

By comparison, the Kyoto Protocol aims to reduce the emissions of most industrialized countries an average of 5.2 percent from 1990 levels by 2012.

At the 20th anniversary event, the man who shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the fate of chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere said the control of ozone depleting chemicals has already helped to limit global warming.

Nobel Laureate Professor Mario Molina, now with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the seminar that 'more has been achieved in terms of greenhouse gas emission reductions under the Montreal Protocol than under the Kyoto Protocol.'

Over its 20 year history, the Montreal Protocol is considered to have achieved success in controlling the ozone-depleting substances that have eroded holes in the Earth's stratospheric ozone layer - first over Antarctic, and more recently over the Arctic as well.

Molina said, 'The Protocol established a crucial precedent by showing that global environmental problems could be solved if there were global cooperation among governments, industry, the scientific community and environmental organizations.'

Canada's Environment Minister John Baird said, 'The original Montreal Protocol stands as a model of the tremendous results that can be achieved when the international community works together to tackle environmental problems.'

'As the proud host country of this meeting, Canada believes that more can be done, and so we support an accelerated phaseout of HCFCs ,' said Baird. 'We will work with the countries who have signed the protocol to help make this happen, and we will be pushing the international community to build on the success story that began here 20 years ago.'

Nine countries, both developed and developing, have submitted six different proposals on the accelerated phaseout of HCFCs for consideraton at the conference ..

The final benefits of an accelerated freeze and phaseout of HCFCs may prove to be even higher than the 18 to 25 billion metric tons, according to a new report from the Montreal Protocol's Technology and Economic Assessment Panel that is designed to inform this week's negotiations.

Close to 38 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide might be avoided annually if the acceleration is accompanied by the recovery and destruction of old equipment and insulating foam and improvements in energy efficiency, says the panel.

For example, a faster switch to alternatives to HCFCs may stimulate technological innovation, including a more rapid introduction of energy efficient equipment that in turn could result in greater greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

Under some of the accelerated phase-out scenarios, ozone levels could return to healthy pre-1980 levels a few years earlier than current scientific predictions.

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