Experts and diplomats from the 178 countries that are parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer gathered in that city today, to review options for further tightening the international regime for protecting the stratospheric ozone layer.
The results of the three-day session of the Protocol's Open-ended Working Group will be forwarded for final approval by the 13th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, to be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in October.
"To ensure that the global phase-out of CFCs [chlorofluorocarbons] and other destructive chemicals is as air-tight as possible, we must address all remaining avenues by which ozone-destroying substances enter the atmosphere despite existing controls," said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), under whose auspices the 1987 Protocol was adopted.
"Major concerns include illegal trade in CFCs and other controlled substances, the lack of alternatives for certain small but essential uses, and the development and marketing by industry of new ozone-depleting chemicals not yet covered by the Protocol," he said in a statement issued today in Montreal and Nairobi.
The Protocol's Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP) has already been asked to conduct an annual review of any new substances with significant ozone-depleting potential that may enter the market. This week in Montreal, the TEAP and the Scientific Assessment Panel will present their proposals on how to move forward in controlling these new substances to the Working Group.
Other issues on the agenda include reducing emissions from ozone-depleting chemicals used as process agents (chemical catalysts), reviewing applications for essential-use exemptions for CFCs and other ozone-depleting chemicals for 2002 and beyond, and launching a study on monitoring and preventing illegal trade.
Under the 1987 Montreal Protocol, governments have agreed to phase out chemicals that destroy stratospheric ozone, which is essential for shielding humans, plants and animals from the damaging effects of harmful ultraviolet light. Recent years have seen record thinning of the ozone layer, including an ever-larger ozone "hole" over Antarctica. Scientists predict that the ozone layer will start to recover in the near future and will fully recover some time in mid-21st century -- but only if the Protocol continues to be vigorously enforced.