U.S., Other Nations Seek to Accelerate Phaseout of Ozone-damaging Chemicals

On March 14, the United States submitted a proposal to accelerate the phaseout of a group of chemicals known as "hydrochlorofluorocarbons" (HCFCs), which are dangerous to the ozone layer and the climate.

The U.S. recommendation joins other similar proposals submitted in March by an array of nations including Argentina, Brazil, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Mauritius, Mauritania, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.

The U.S. proposal includes four elements that can be considered individually or as a package:

  1. Accelerating the phaseout date of HCFCs by 10 years.
  2. Adding interim reduction steps.
  3. Setting an earlier baseline.
  4. Phasing out the most damaging HCFCs to the ozone layer as the first priority.

HCFCs are used as refrigerants in air conditioners and refrigerators, as blowing agents to make plastic foams, and for other purposes. Production of HCFCs in industrial nations already is being reduced under the international treaty for protecting the ozone layer, known as the Montreal Protocol. The treaty currently places some limits on developing countries' production of HCFCs, starting in 2015. However, production is growing unexpectedly fast in countries such as China and India. The goal of these proposals is to avoid unnecessary HCFC growth and accelerate reductions in both developed and developing countries.

"Accelerating the phaseout of HCFCs provides an unprecedented opportunity to reduce the impacts of climate change and ozone layer depletion," said Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) campaigns director Alexander von Bismarck. "The United States and other governments that submitted proposals should be applauded for their early and decisive action."

If approved at an international conference in Montreal in September, an accelerated phaseout of HCFCs has the potential to prevent the production of 27.5 billion carbon-dioxide-equivalent tons of HCFCs -- more than the total annual global emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning and flaring of fossil fuels, according to EIA.

For more information, contact EPA at http://www.epa.gov or the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration at http://www.noaa.gov.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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