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Swiss welcome historic accord on ozone

The hole in the ozone layer was discovered in 1985 imagepoint

A top Swiss environment official has hailed the decision for the early phase out of ozone-harming HCFC gases.

This content was published on September 22, 2007 - 18:00

Thomas Kolly of the Federal Environment Office said the move, made at an international ozone protection conference in Montreal, sent out a good signal for the climate process as a whole.

Delegates from 191 countries agreed to eliminate ozone-depleting substances faster than originally planned.

"A deal which UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) believes is historic has been reached on the accelerated freezing and phase-out of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)," said UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall.

Negotiators agreed the deadline for phasing out production and use of HCFCs for developed countries would be moved up to 2020 from 2030 and to 2030 from 2040 for developing nations.

The Montreal Protocol, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, was originally set up to phase out chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) – substances which were causing erosion of the ozone layer.

The ozone layer blocks ultraviolet-B radiation from the sun, which can be harmful to humans and animals.

This latest meeting concerned the use of what was mostly used to replace CFCs - HCFCs - which are found in aerosols and fridges.

Some countries, including Switzerland, had raised concerns about HCFCs' impact on the ozone layer and on the climate in general, as they are also thought to contribute to global warming.

HCFCs dilemma

Previously only the consumption of HCFCs had been regulated in the protocol. Now it has been decided to ban their production as well.

Kolly said a strict timetable for phasing out the substances in emerging countries had also been approved.

"Until now emerging markets like China were subject to the ban on HCFCs that starts in 2040, but until then they were free to do whatever they wanted," Kolly told swissinfo.

"Now we have decided on a whole pathway, including a whole schedule starting from 2010. By 2030 we should have an almost complete ban on the consumption and production of HCFCs," he added.

Swiss involvement

Kolly said that Switzerland had played an active role in these changes.

"We were among the countries that made complete proposals [for HCFCs] and we pushed very hard during the last couple of months. The Swiss proposal is probably closest to the result we have achieved," he said.

HCFC producers such as China and India had been concerned that they would lose out, but Kolly said it had been possible to reassure them that financing and technical support would continue.

The ambassador, who is head of international relations at the environment office, added that the Montreal decision had implications for other environmental agreements, including the Kyoto Protocol, the main greenhouse gas emission reduction treaty.

Recent attempts to reach a global agreement to replace Kyoto, which runs out in 2012, have ended in failure. The United States has also refused to sign the treaty.

"We have made good progress in Montreal concerning the ozone," Kolly told swissinfo. "It a very positive signal for the climate and for the climate process."

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

In brief

The Montreal Protocol meeting, in Montreal, Canada, ran from September 14-21.

The United Nations Environment Programme and the Canadian government used the occasion to celebrate the treaty's 20th anniversary which fell on September 16 – also the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer.

A special seminar on the protocol took place and prizes were awarded for commitment to the success of the protocol.

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Montreal Protocol

The Montreal Protocol was adopted in 1987 following the 1985 discovery of a growing hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic.

One of the main causes of this was identified as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were leaking into the atmosphere from refrigerators and aerosols. Other chemicals are also covered.

The ozone layer blocks ultraviolet-B radiation from the sun, which can cause skin cancers and other medical conditions, as well as harm biodiversity and wildlife.

Kolly says that the Montreal Protocol is probably the most important and successful international environmental agreement so far.

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