A bright spot in the battle against climate change
Despite the bickering over the Kyoto Protocol, environmental experts say progress has been made in one area - reducing ozone depletion.
Amid the ongoing torrent of bad news about climate change, a recent gathering of scientists at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich said the news was not all doom and gloom.
The American scientist who discovered ozone depletion, Sherwood Rowland, said the ozone hole over Antarctica has stabilised and should repair itself over the next five decades.
"Because the amount of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the atmosphere is no longer increasing, there is reason for optimism that the ozone hole will not get worse than it is now," he said.
Rowland cautioned, though, that countries like South Africa, southern Chile and Argentina would continue to feel the effects of ozone degradation for many years. Scientists say the thinning of the ozone layer allows ultra-violet radiation from the sun to reach the earth's surface, causing genetic mutations and skin cancer.
Efforts to phase out the use of CFCs, enshrined in the Montreal Protocol, have been much more successful than those aimed at cutting greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), which are the primary cause of global warming.
The main treaty aimed at reducing CO2 emissions, the Kyoto Protocol, was last year rejected by the United States - the world's biggest polluter - as too costly.
Other countries, including Switzerland, have said they will implement the treaty but scientists generally agree that without the US's participation, it will have little impact.
The message from the scientists in Zurich was that knowledge gained about climate change has to be translated into political policy.
"We're looking at a situation where, unless we actually reduce emissions of ozone-depleting gasses faster, then the increasing greenhouse gas effect is going to make ozone depletion worse," said Bill Hare, director of climate policy at Greenpeace International.
His comments were echoed by the United Nations Environment Programme representative, Nelson Sabogal, who said the poor tend to be hit hardest by climate change.
"We are very concerned about environmental catastrophes that occur frequently and I think the way forward is to work together because these problems cannot be tackled in isolation," Sabogal said.
Switzerland itself is showing signs of being affected by global warming. The majority of the country's glaciers are retreating, according to scientists at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.
"The Alps tend to look more and more like the Rocky Mountains in the summer time," said the institute's president, Olaf Kübler.
by Samantha Tonkin
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