20 September 2009

UNEP hails Timor-Leste's signing of Montreal protocol

NAIROBI, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- The UN environmental agency on Wednesday lauded Timor-Leste's move to ratify the Montreal Protocol.

UNEP said the treaty to protect the ozone layer, which shields all life on Earth from deadly levels of ultra violet rays, made on the UN's International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, is the latest in a rapidly evolving list of achievements for the ozone treaties.

"Timor-Leste is very pleased to be joining the rest of the world in the fight against the depletion of the ozone layer and the effort towards its recovery," said Xanana Gusmao, the prime minister of the Pacific nation of Timor-Leste.

"We are proud to be part of this important process to protect the ozone layer and undertake to implement and comply with the Montreal Protocol like all other States that preceded us in this important journey," he said, according to a statement from UNEP.

The Montreal Protocol, established to phase-out the pollutants that were damaging the planet's protective shield, will in just three months' time have completely retired close to 100 chemicals linked with ozone damage.

Today, as the sun rises in Australasia swiftly onto Timor-Leste before setting on Hawaii, United States - one of the first nations to ratify -countries will be marking not only the recovery of the ozone layer.

They will also be celebrating the unique contribution that the Montreal Protocol has, and is continuing to contribute, to combating other key challenges including climate change.

"The ratification by Timor-Leste makes this special day even more special and a signal that when the world fully and wholly unites around an environmental challenge there can be multiple and transformative effects," said Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and UNEP's executive director.

Steiner said without the Montreal Protocol and its Vienna Convention, atmospheric levels of ozone-depleting substances would have increased tenfold by 2050 which in turn could have led to up to 20 million more cases of skin cancer and 130 million more cases of eye cataracts, not to speak of damage to human immune systems, wildlife and agriculture.

"Today we in addition know that some of the same gases contribute to climate change. By some estimates, the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances has since 1990 contributed a delay in global warming of some seven to 12 years underlining that a dollar spent on ozone has paid handsomely across other environmental challenges," said Steiner.

Marco Gonzalez, executive secretary of the Ozone Secretariat which is hosted by UNEP, said the focus was now switching from the original gases such as chlorofluro-carbons (CFCs) to their replacement gases known as HCFCs and HFCs for uses in refrigerators, foams and flame retardants.

In 2007 governments agreed to accelerate the freeze and phase-out hydrochlofluro-carbons or HCFCs - explicitly for their climate change impacts.

The maximum benefits here are only likely to occur if this goes hand in hand with the introduction of more energy efficient equipment that can work with substances that have low or zero global warming potential.

The focus is now also rapidly shifting to hydrofluro-carbons (HFCs). This year scientists, reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggested that if these became the replacement substances of choice, the climate impacts could be serious.

The scientists argue that HFC use could climb sharply in the coming years in products such as insulation foams air conditioning units and refrigeration as replacements.

Conversely, rapid action to freeze and to cut emissions annually alongside fostering readily available alternatives could see HFC emissions fall to under one Gigatonne by 2050.

"Importantly, governments last year requested the Executive Secretaries of the Montreal Protocol and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to cooperate more closely on these issues and this was taken forward in 2009 in the spirit of One UN," said Gonzalez.

Governments will meet in November in Egypt, under the Montreal Protocol to chart the future directions for the treaty including its role in combating climate change.

Gonzalez emphasized that "this historic meeting, hosted by the Government of Egypt, will be the first to bring together the highest number ever of participating States for decision-making under an international treaty."

These discussions will come just days before the key climate meeting in Copenhagen where nations are being urged to Seal the Deal on significant emissions reductions backed by support for adaptation for vulnerable countries and communities.

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