Recovery of the ozone layer threatened by smuggling, profit and complacency

Posted: 17 September 2003

The Montreal Protocol* is at serious risk of being undermined by illegal trade and production of ozone-depleting substances whilst the ozone hole over Antarctica is the largest it's ever been in early September, warns the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

The international community still faces significant challenges as illicit production and smuggling of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) threaten to undermine the success of the Montreal Protocol. EIA's Ozone Layer Campaigner Ezra Clark said: "We have found evidence of CFC smuggling in many parts of the world, particularly now in developing countries, where CFC phase-out schedules are beginning to be felt. Much equipment exists in these countries which relies on CFCs, but the high cost of alternative chemicals creates a demand which is often satiated by illegal material".

Although levels of ozone-depleting substances in the upper atmosphere are now thought to be at or near their peak, the ozone layer will remain vulnerable for the first half of the century. Ozone depletion could still get worse if complex interactions with global climate change occur as scientists fear. Such interactions could cause significantly more thinning of the ozone layer in the northern hemisphere, potentially exposing many of Europe's citizens, livestock and fisheries to elevated levels of harmful ultraviolet radiation (UV).

Despite the ban on production of CFCs for domestic use since January 1995, regrettably CFCs are still produced in Europe for export to developing countries. "There is strong evidence of surplus global production, and EU-produced CFCs ending up on the black market in developing countries. While we welcome the recent voluntary reductions in production of CFCs announced by the EU, we feel stronger actions are needed, and the Montreal Protocol should take more concrete steps to accelerate the phase-out of these harmful ozone-destroying chemicals," said Dr Clark.

A further problem which could significantly undermine the Montreal Protocol and delay the recovery of the ozone layer is the request by the US to the Montreal Protocol for exemptions allowing it to hugely increase its use of the fumigant methyl bromide - one of the most potent ozone-depleting chemicals still in widespread use. The Montreal Protocol meeting in Nairobi in November this year will decide whether to grant these controversial "critical use exemptions" to the US.

* The Montreal Protocol was agreed on 1 January 1987 and is now ratified by 184 countries. Under the Montreal Protocol and its amendments, ozone-depleting substances are to be reduced and eliminated through the development of chemical substitutes and alternative manufacturing processes (elimination is the final objective). Phase out should be complete by 2010.

Related links:

Environmental Investigation Agency

The Montreal Protocol