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Independent: Bush ready to wreck ozone layer treaty

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  • Imran
    Bush ready to wreck ozone layer treaty US slips in demand to drop ban on harmful pesticide By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor 20 July 2003 President George
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 19, 2003
      Bush ready to wreck ozone layer treaty

      US slips in demand to drop ban on harmful pesticide

      By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor

      20 July 2003

      President George Bush is targeting the international treaty to save the
      ozone layer which protects all life on earth from deadly radiation, The
      Independent on Sunday can reveal.

      New US demands - tabled at a little-noticed meeting in Montreal earlier this
      month - threaten to unravel one of the greatest environmental success
      stories of the past few decades, causing millions of deaths from cancer.

      The news comes at a particularly embarrassing time for the Prime Minister,
      Tony Blair, who pressed the President in their talks in Washington last week
      to stop his attempts to sabotage the Kyoto Protocol which sets out to
      control global warming: one of the few international issues on which they

      Now, instead of heeding Mr Blair, Mr Bush is undermining the ozone treaty as
      well, by seeking to perpetuate the use of the most ozone-destructive
      chemical still employed in developed countries, otherwise soon to be phased
      out. Ironically, it was sustained pressure from the Reagan administration,
      in which Mr Bush's father served as vice-president, that ensured the treaty
      was adopted in the first place. It has proved such a success that
      environmentalists have long regarded it as inviolable.

      The ozone layer - made of a type of oxygen so thinly scattered through the
      upper atmosphere that, if gathered all together, it would form a ring around
      the earth no thicker than the sole of a shoe - screens out the sun's harmful
      ultraviolet rays which would, otherwise, wipe out terrestrial life. As it
      weakens, more of the rays get through, causing skin cancer and blindness
      from cataracts.

      The world was shocked to discover in the 1980s that pollution from man-made
      chemicals had opened a hole the size of the United States in the layer above
      Antarctica, and had thinned it worldwide. Led by the US, nations moved with
      unprecedented speed to agree the treaty, called the Montreal Protocol, in
      1987 - which started the process of phasing out use of the chemicals.

      The measures have been progressively tightened ever since. Scientists reckon
      that they will eventually prevent 2 million cases of cancer a year in the US
      and Europe alone. But President Bush's new demands threaten to throw the
      process into reverse.

      They centre on a pesticide, methyl bromide, now the greatest attacker of
      ozone left in industrialised countries. The US is responsible for a quarter
      of the world's consumption of the chemical, which has also been linked with
      increased prostate cancers in farmers.

      Under an extension to the Montreal Protocol, agreed in 1997, the pesticide
      is being gradually phased out and replaced with substitutes; its use in the
      West is due to end completely in 2005. Nations are legally allowed to extend
      the use of small amounts in "critical" applications, but the US is demanding
      exemptions far beyond those permitted, for uses ranging from growing
      strawberries to tending golf courses.

      It is also pressing to exploit a loophole in the treaty - allowing the use
      of the chemical to treat wood packaging - so that, instead of being phased
      out, its use would increase threefold.

      The demands now go to an international conference in Nairobi this autumn.
      Experts fear that, if agreed, the treaty will begin to fall apart, not least
      because developing countries - which are following rich nations in phasing
      out ozone-depleting chemicals - could cease their efforts.

      "The US is reneging on the agreement, and working very, very hard to get
      other countries to agree," said David Doniger, a former senior US government
      official dealing with ozone issues, who now works for the Natural Resources
      Defense Council. "If it succeeds, it threatens to unravel the whole fabric
      of the treaty."

      Dr Joe Farman, the Cambridge scientist who discovered the Antarctic ozone
      hole, added: "This is madness. We do not need this chemical. We do need the
      ozone layer. How stupid can people be?"
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