11 countries receive temporary exemption to toxic substance ban, UN agency reports

28 March 2004

An intergovernmental meeting on the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer has granted limited "critical use exemptions" to 11 developed countries facing a year-end deadline for phasing out the toxic pesticide methyl bromide.

The exemptions are intended to give farmers, fumigators and other users of methyl bromide some additional time to adopt cost-effective substitutes for this ozone-destroying substance, which is used to eliminate pests in such crops as tomatoes, strawberries, melons, peppers, cucumbers and flowers.

At the meeting, which wrapped up Friday in Montreal, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States were granted exemptions.

"The high demand for exemptions to the methyl bromide phase-out shows that Governments and the private sector will have to work much harder to speed up the development and spread of ozone-friendly replacements," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer.

"The best way for Governments to protect the integrity of the Montreal Protocol - one of the most successful and important international treaties ever adopted - is to send a powerful signal to both producers and users that methyl bromide does not have a future," he said.

Like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were almost entirely phased out by developed countries in 1996, methyl bromide damages the stratospheric ozone layer that protects all living things from too much solar radiation. Increased radiation leads to more skin cancers and eye cataracts while damaging plants and animals, including the plankton that sustains the marine food chain.

Under the Montreal Protocol, developed countries have agreed to reduce methyl bromide by 25 per cent by 1999 (compared to 1991 levels), 50 per cent by 2001, 70 per cent by 2003 and 100 per cent by 1 January 2005. For developing countries (which have contributed much less to the problem of ozone depletion), the schedule started with a 2002 freeze (at average 1995-98 levels) and continues with reductions reaching 100 per cent by 2015.


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