Ozone layer recovery in jeopardy as administration backs industry interests

provided by Friends of the Earth


hile the world's attention was focused on the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle, the Clinton/Gore Administration was quietly giving away the store in Beijing at a meeting of nations signed to the Montreal Protocol, according to Friends of the Earth.

Environmental, health, and consumer groups alerted the world that the nations signed onto the agreement are no longer capable of responding to the serious threat to the ozone layer. This came at the close of the 11th annual negotiating meeting held under this international environmental treaty.

"The shocking news of a new ozone hole over Northern Europe, almost as severe as the Antarctic ozone hole, should have moved nations to eliminate ozone destroying chemicals. Instead they acted to paralyze a once-successful international agreement," said Jessica Vallette Revere, atmosphere campaign director at Friends of the Earth. "This pact is not protecting life on earth from greed and shortsighted policies."

Revere also noted that the medical costs associated with ozone depletion have skyrocketed. Skin cancers are on the rise, and Americans are now spending almost $3 billion a year on cataract operations.

Friends of the Earth identified the following failures at the meetings:


Funding to protect ozone layer cut

  The wealthy nations reduced the amount available for developing nations to eliminate CFCs, even though many poor countries volunteered to phase out the worst ozone-depleting chemicals more rapidly than the agreement requires. The amount approved for 1999-2002 was $440 million while the amount in the previous three years was $466 million.


New ozone-depleting chemicals largely unregulated

  An important European proposal to automatically regulate all newly created ozone destroying chemicals was killed. Lobbyists from Great Lakes Chemical were present at the meeting to make sure their pet chemical (n-propyl bromide) was not included for regulation.


Methyl bromide use allowed to expand indefinitely

  The pesticide industry fought for and kept its right to unlimited expansion of methyl bromide, 50 times worse than CFCs at destroying ozone in the early years after release. Methyl bromide is a toxic pesticide used in international shipping and agriculture. A European Union proposal to cap expanding use of methyl bromide use in international trade was killed. Instead, countries were required to simply report on its use.


Ozone-depleting chemicals still promoted as a solution


Nations reaffirmed the use of ozone protection funds to support projects that use HCFCs, chemicals that still cause significant damage to ozone. HCFCs are also potent global warmers.

"Industry took care of themselves, diplomats took care of their jobs, China took care of the meeting arrangements, and no one took care of the Earth," said Larry Bohlen, director of health and environment programs at Friends of the Earth.


Global warming's harmful effects on ozone downplayed

  An additional 20-year delay in ozone recovery due to global warming interactions predicted by scientists was simply referred to a committee for another year's discussion.



In September, Friends of the Earth gave Clinton and Gore a letter grade of 'D' for weak and uneven past efforts to protect the ozone layer. "At this meeting on ozone protection they earned an 'F' for having all the wrong answers to the most important questions," said Bohlen. "The outcome of the meeting leads environmentalists to conclude that a new worldwide strategy is required to address this critical issue with the urgency now indicated by new scientific findings."

The ozone layer shields people from exposure to cancer-causing, eye-damaging ultraviolet radiation. Despite decades of efforts to stop production of ozone depleting chemicals, the Antarctic ozone hole is now larger than ever and in 1999 covered an area twice the size of mainland China. For information on the European ozone hole, visit: subs.esa.int:8330/pressows/documents/news /1/1999/press47.html.

Contact: Mark Whiteis-Helm, (202) 783-7400, ext. 102, or Larry Bohlen, (202) 783-7400, ext. 251, both of Friends of the Earth; Web site: www.foe.org.