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Montreal Protocol outshines Kyoto PETER HADEKEL, The Gazette Published: 6 hours ago It's been described as the most successful global environmental agreement ever negotiated. The Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987 and ratified by 191 countries, has been extraordinarily effective in phasing out the use of harmful chemicals that depleted the the ozone layer in the Earth's stratosphere. The agreement showed that the global community really could respond to a serious environmental threat. [/url] Twenty years later, environmental officials from government and industry are meeting this week, at a United Nations conference in Montreal, to assess their progress and recommend further action. And some are asking whether the Montreal Protocol could serve as a template for action on a far bigger and more complex problem - greenhouse gas emissions. Despite progress in eliminating 95 per cent of ozone-depleting chemicals, there's still more that can be done to protect the ozone layer, said Mack McFarland, a scientist at chemical giant E.I. DuPont de Nemours and global environmental manager of the company's fluorochemicals business. The phase-out for developing countries could be speeded up, he said in an interview yesterday. That's one proposal on the agenda at this week's meeting. The ozone layer acts as a filter in the Earth's stratosphere, absorbing harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun. By the mid-1980s, gaping holes in the layer had begun to appear, linked to the world's consumption of such chemicals as halons (in fire extinguishers) and chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs (in refrigeration, air conditioning and aerosol propellants). After scientific proof was published about the the causes of ozone depletion, industry began to acknowledge its role in the problem, McFarland said. DuPont, which had invented CFCs, began to call for their elimination a year before the Montreal Protocol was signed. Progress was rapid in eliminating use of most ozone-depleting substances, he noted. "In developed countries, halons were gone by 1995, and CFCs by 1996." As of 2005, more than 95 per cent of all the chemicals controlled by the protocol had been phased out. But healing the stratosphere will take longer, because chemical residues will be present for a while. The United Nations Environment Program estimates that the ozone layer should return to pre-1980 levels by 2050 to 2075. Health benefits will be substantial as the ozone layer is restored. It's estimated that the global community will avoid millions of cases of fatal skin cancer and save trillions of dollars in health-care costs. "At this stage, the question is: Is there more that can be done to protect the ozone layer," McFarland asked. Use of less damaging HCFCs is still being ramped down, but could be speeded up in both developed and developing countries, he said. Six groups of countries have presented proposals to accelerate that process. Industry has poured hundreds of million of dollars into research and development of safer chemical substitutes for use in such processes as refrigeration. One result, McFarland said, is that production of global warming gases has also been reduced. Between 1990, when ozone-depleting substances were at peak levels, and 2000, the elimination of those chemicals yielded a net reduction of 25 billion tonnes of global-warming gases. Can the success of the Montreal Protocol serve as a model for tackling climate change? In one respect, it can, McFarland said, because a science-based approach was followed and countries, while agreeing to respect targets, were to free to implement the Montreal Protocol as they chose. Also, realizing that science and technology were not static, there were provisions to revise the Montreal Protocol at least every four years. Of course, a critical difference is that developing countries were on board from the start. That's not the case with the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. "The climate change issue is many orders of magnitude more challenging," McFarland said. "We're dealing with the very fabric of our society - the way we produce and use energy. "You've got to make sure that the goals you set under these international agreements are achievable." [email protected]