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UN redoubles efforts to protect world’s cancer-preventing ozone layer

UN redoubles efforts to protect world’s cancer-preventing ozone layer

As part of the global effort to repair the ozone layer which filters out ultraviolet solar rays that cause skin cancer and other ills, the United Nations environmental agency today called on world governments to monitor an ozone-damaging chemical still being used to kill pests on several important commodity crops.

Methyl bromide, a major ozone-depleting substance, is being phased out for some key agricultural purposes, such as fumigation of soils and pest control on farms, under an international agreement called the Montreal Protocol. But pest-control uses involving exports of commodity crops such as rice, maize, nuts, and animal fodder, cut flowers, hides and consignments in wooden pallets are exempted.

In a message marking International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that 17 years after the signing of the Protocol, more than 90 per cent of ozone-depleting substances had been phased out. But while congratulating parties to the protocol for this remarkable success, he asked them to overcome some of the remaining challenges in this area.

UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Klaus Toepfer, too, noted the progress made but also the challenges lying ahead. "Efforts to repair the ozone layer have been one of the great environmental success stories," he said.

“Scientists estimate that, by the middle of the century and as a result of the phasing-out of numerous ozone-damaging chemicals, the ozone layer will be repaired. But this is far from guaranteed,” he added, calling on governments to re-double efforts to assess the quantities of methyl bromide being used on commodity export crops so as to fill in “significant knowledge gaps” on worldwide use.

He also cautioned that while, under the Montreal Protocol, developed countries are required to end use of methyl bromide on farms by the end of this year, Australian, European and North American governments are seeking so-called “Critical Use Exemptions” beyond the 2005 deadline on grounds that alternatives may be less effective and more expensive.

Mr. Toepfer said the quantities used on farms was well understood and “I hope we are now on a trajectory where its controlled uses are set to diminish.” But he warned that the precise levels being used for quarantine and pre-shipment purposes to kill insects like long-horned and bark beetles, wood boring wasps, moths and other pests remains uncertain.

As part of UNEP’s overall efforts to protect the 20-mile high ozone layer, the agency today released a new animated awareness video, “Ozzy Ozone,” in which the main character, an ozone molecule, takes viewers on a voyage of discovery to find out exactly what is attacking the layer. It explains how children can protect themselves from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation caused by ozone depletion. More than 56 Governments are broadcasting the video on their national television channels, reaching millions of viewers worldwide.