United States Floats Proposal to Help Prevent Global Ozone Depletion
NEXT month international negotiations begin in Geneva on controling future emissions of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's). The aim is to prevent the destruction of a band of ozone in the upper atmosphere that shields the earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation. But working out an agreement is certin to be a contentious process because of the changes it portends for industrialized countries where the chemicals are widely used for refrigeration, cooling, aerosol propellants, and in manufacturing.
Demand for CFC's grew dramatically from 1946 through the mid-1970's. The various CFC gases and solvents have played a key role in improving economic productivity since World War II in developed countries, especially in warm climates. The attraction of the compounds has been their low toxicity, small production costs, and efficiency not only in refrigeration and air conditioning systems but also in manufacturing processes. By the early 1970's, however, it was recognized that CFC's posed a potential threat to the ozone layer.
When CFC compounds break down in the ozone layer they release chlorine atoms that strip away one of three oxygen atoms that form ozone when bound together. Most of the world's CFC's are produced and consumed in developed countries in the Northern Hemisphere. The depletion of the ozone belt could be most severe at latitudes above 40| in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) projections. Affected would be the northern part of the United States, Canada, most of Europe, the Soviet Union, and parts of China.
Says Richard E. Benedick, the Department of State's deputy assistant secretary for environment, health, and natural resources, "We have got to get a collection of countries to agree that it is wise to take out an insurance policy.' He concedes that could "entail some near-term costs,' including abandoning certain applications of CFC's, switching to more expensive, or less effective substitutes, and capital investment in new plant and equipment. Critical to any effort to control CFC use is the participation of European governments. Not only is Europe a major CFC consumer, its chemical producers also export large volumes of CFC compounds.
Just how cautious a posture western European governments, the Eastern bloc, the Japanese, and Third World countries are willing to adopt is unclear. Except for a few Scandinavian countries, much of Europe has yet to ban the use chlorofluorocarbons as aerosol propellants for products such as hair spray. The European Community in the early 1980's did pledge not to expand is greatly underutilized production capacity for certain CFC compounds, and to cut CFC use in aerosols 30%. The actions have been insubstantial compared with the dramatic reductions achieved by the ban on nonessential CFC use in aerosols adopted by the United States and Canada in 1978.
Despite past resisance, "the Europeans are now showing signs of flexibility,' says Benedick, noting that the risks of not curbing emissions are increasingly hard for governments to ignore. This is reflected in the fact that 28 nations, including...