INTERNATIONAL NGO COALITION TO PROTECT THE OZONE LAYER MEDIA RELEASE 15 September 1997163 NATIONS FAIL TO MAKE PROGRESS TO PROTECT OZONE LAYER Seventy-two Hours Left in Montreal Protocol Meeting But Chemical Producers Obstructing Agreement
Montreal --As 163 nations gather this week in Montreal for the 10th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol (an international ozone protection treaty), a handful of countries including China, Kenya, Italy, Spain and Israel, and chemical manufacturers are preventing a rapid global phase-out of the highly toxic, ozone depleting pesticide methyl bromide. Despite a week of negotiations, infighting between nations has prevented international action to protect the ozone layer.
Today, representatives from environmental, agriculture and health organizations from 25 nations gathered to protest the lack of progress and to urge countries to take aggressive action to protect the global environment and public health in the final seventy-two hours of the Protocol meeting.
Brent Blackwelder of Friends of the Earth USA said: "If the global community cannot agree to ban this hazardous chemical, we can effectively declare the Montreal Protocol to be dead. Unfortunately, the Protocol delegates are turning their backs on the serious impacts ozone loss has on the health of people and ecosystems worldwide."
Ozone depletion continues to be a serious global environmental problem. In 1995, 226 of the world's leading atmospheric scientists reported that eliminating methyl bromide use is the single most significant step yet to be taken to reduce future ozone loss. Ozone depletion is linked to rising rates of skin cancers, eye cataracts and damage to key ecosystems, including crop loss from increased UV radiation.
Representatives from citizen groups in developing nations called on their countries to ban methyl bromide as soon as possible. Fernando Bejarano, from RAPAM (Mexico Pesticide Action Network) said: "Since alternatives exist for many uses of methyl bromide, there is no excuse not to commit to an earlier phase out."
Grace Ohayo-Mitoko, from Health and Environment Watch in Kenya, called on her country to stop impeding progress towards an agreement. At the negotiations last week, Kenya was the leading nation preventing an international ban. She noted that Kenya uses methyl bromide primarily to grow cut flowers, not for food crops, so that the transition away from methyl bromide would affect only a small number of Kenyans.
Environmental organizations in industrialized countries called upon their governments to ban methyl bromide by 2001 at the latest. Ignacio Morales, with Friends of the Earth Spain, said: "As the largest users of this pesticide, industrialized countries must show international leadership and support an immediate ban." The groups also urged developed countries to provide funding for the transition to sustainable alternatives through the Protocol's Multilateral Fund.
Critical to the debate over methyl bromide is its high toxicity and the risk it poses to farmworkers and people living near fields and buildings where it is used. Paula Forbis, of the Environmental Health Coalition in California, said: "Over the last 15 years, hundreds of injuries and deaths have been caused by community and farmworker exposure to methyl bromide. How many more people have to die before world leaders act to ban this dangerous chemical?"
In 1995, United Nations experts concluded that alternatives are available for 90% of current methyl bromide uses. Elsa Nivia, from RAPALMIRA in Colombia, held up Colombia's recent decision to ban the pesticide in agricultural uses as a model for other developing nations. Colombia is the world's second largest exporter of cut flowers and has protected this highly profitable industry while phasing out its use of methyl bromide.
In explaining the breakdown in Montreal Protocol negotiations, organizations pointed to the activities of methyl bromide industry representatives in influencing the meeting. Anne Schonfield, with Pesticide Action Network in the U.S. said: "Methyl bromide lobbyists are working extremely hard to stop a ban. Their unethical tactics have become clear at this meeting." Schonfield explained that only a small group of corporations will gain if methyl bromide use continues, but the negative health and environmental effects will be felt by millions of people.
Although the United States has identified the pesticide as a Class I acute toxin, the most deadly category of substances, the United States is not firmly insisting on a rapid ban. Despite publicly supporting a quick phase-out, behind the scenes the U.S. is compromising its leadership position. Other countries obstructing progress include China, Kenya, Italy and Spain, due primarily to strong corporate influence. Canada supports a methyl bromide phase-out in industrialized countries in 2001 and in developing countries in 2011. At the negotiations last week, industrialized countries proposed a ban on their uses by 2005 while developing nations suggested only a 5% cut in their use of methyl bromide by 2005. Intense negotiations will continue into this week.
25 non-governmental organizations from Canada, the United States, Kenya, Italy, Ghana, Spain, the United Kingdom, Togo, Benin, Australia, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Japan and other countries are attending the meeting. They are calling for a ban of most uses of methyl bromide in industrialized countries in 1999 with a complete ban in 2001 and a ban in developing countries by 2006.
For more information, please contact: Angela Vincelli, Friends of the Earth Canada, 1-613-795-5758 (on location in Montreal).
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