Ozone damaging pesticide gains reprieve

Posted: 17 November 2003

The planet-damaging pesticide, methyl bromide, gained a further reprieve last week. A decision on how far to exempt it from the list of banned chemicals which are depleting the earth's protective ozone layer was deferred to next year (2004).

Delegates meeting at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters, in Nairobi, decided that they needed more time to discuss the complex questions of how big such exemptions should be for developed world farmers.

An 'extraordinary meeting', to be hosted by UNEP in Montreal, Canada, in March 2004, will continue the process towards a total phasing out of methylbromide which began in 1996.

Under the terms of the Montreal Protocol, developed countries have agreed to phase out their use of the chemical, which is used to kill pests such as nematode worms, by 1 January 2005.

Strawberry growers

However some farmers, including strawberry, melon, pepper and tomato growers, predominantly in North America and Europe, have argued that thecurrent available alternatives are not technically or economically feasible to use.

They had asked Parties to the Protocol, for exemptions amounting to around 15,000 tonnes of methyl bromide for the year 2005.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director, said: "Unfortunately and despite a great deal of discussion, governments could not find consensus on this complex issue" which forms part of the agreement to repair the Earth's protective ozone shield.

Hair sprays

"Developed countries have already phased out Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) once commonly used in products like fridges and hair sprays along with several other chemicals with high ozone depletingpotential", he said.

"Consumption of methyl bromide, one of the last key chemicals that needs to be phased out in developed countries, has also been reducedby 70 per cent since the mid-1990s."

He said the rights of countries to seek exemptions, as a way of smoothing the way to total phase-outs of ozone damaging chemicals, was one of the important provisions enshrined in the Protocol.

Essential exemptions

"CFCs are used in, for example, inhalers for conditions like asthma. Parties have approved essential use exemptions in this area, but there is no suggestion that these have abused or that the integrity of the Montreal Protocol his under threat," said Mr Toepfer.

Indeed, one of the decisions approved at the meeting was to grant CFC exemptions for inhalers in 2005 amounting to 3,268 tonnes, down from 16,000 tonnes in 1996.

Marco Gonzalez, Executive Secretary of the Ozone Secretariat, said: " I am looking forward to the coming extraordinary meeting where I fully expectthat parties will conclude this round of discussions about methyl bromide."

  • Harmful ozone pollution was the worst for almost a decade in large parts of Europe in the summer of 2003, particularly during the long August heatwave, according to a preliminary assessment by the European Environment Agency. And says the Agency, this situation is likely to repeat itself in any future summers with above-average temperatures until measures taken under current legislation result in a much larger cut in emissions of the 'precursor' pollutants that cause ground-level ozone towards the year 2010.

See also: UNEP