MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, March 29, 2004 (ENS):
Twelve industrialized countries have won "critical
use exemptions" to a year end ban on the use of
the pesticide and fumigant methyl bromide at an intergovernmental
meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances
that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Some 360 participants
from 114 countries as well as observer organizations
took part in the meeting, which concluded on Friday.
Methyl bromide damages the stratospheric ozone layer
that protects all living things from too much solar
radiation. Increased radiation leads to more skin cancers
and eye cataracts. It also damages plants and animals,
including the plankton that sustains the marine food
Disagreement arose between the United States, which
was seeking a large exemption to the ban for its growers,
and the European Union, which was seeking small exemptions
for its member states and a rapid phaseout of methyl
bromide production and use.
Compromise was reached by adopting a double-cap concept
distinguishing between use and production for critical
12 developed countries with exceptions are:
Australia (145 metric tons),
Belgium (47), Canada (56), France (407), Greece
(186), Italy (2,133), Japan (284), the Netherlands,
Portugal (50), Spain (1,059), the United Kingdom
(129) and the United
This works by setting a cap for new production at 30
percent of the baseline of their 1991 levels. This means
that for 2005, Parties must use existing stockpiles
if the capped production amount is insufficient for
their needs allowed under the critical use exemptions.
Precise accounting of existing methyl bromide stockpiles
will be central to reducing loopholes in this approach,
many Parties said.
A statement released by the U.S. State Department supported
the decision and said it “will allow for the continued
viability of important agricultural sectors in many
parts of the world, including the United States, while
continuing the international effort to minimize and
eventually phase out use of this ozone depleting substance
as soon as possible.”
In addition, a working group was established to review
the procedures and terms of reference of the Methyl
Bromide Technical Options Committee.
Because methyl bromide contributes to depletion of
the ozone layer, countries agreed in 1995 to phase out
its use by 2005 in developed countries, and by 2015
in developing countries, provided that technically and
economically feasible alternatives could be developed
and marketed by that time.
"The high demand for exemptions to the methyl
bromide phaseout shows that governments and the private
sector will have to work much harder to speed up the
development and spread of ozone friendly replacements,"
said Klaus Toepfer executive director of the United
Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which hosts the
Ozone Secretariat that administers the Montreal Protocol.
Under the agreement reached Friday, 12 developed countries
have received exemptions to the phaseout totaling 13,438
metric tons of methyl bromide for 2005.
The 2001 consumption figure for all 34 developed countries
in 2001 was 23,488 tons - for developing countries,
it was 18,058.
The 12 countries are Australia (145 metric tons), Belgium
(47), Canada (56), France (407), Greece (186), Italy
(2,133), Japan (284), the Netherlands, Portugal (50),
Spain (1,059), the United Kingdom (129) and the United
The United States, which was granted a critical use
exemption roughly twice as large as the total of all
the others, said there is still a lack of technically
and economically feasible alternatives.
Alternatives have taken much longer than anticipated
to develop, the U.S. State Department said in a statement.
The critical use exemptions granted the United States
will cover: food processing, commodity storage, forest
seedlings, orchard seedlings, orchard replant, turf
and sod, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, strawberry, strawberry
nurseries, cucurbits, ornamentals, ginger, sweet potatoes
and transplant trays used in certain greenhouse production
U.S. growers of tomatoes, strawberries and peppers
particularly have lobbied the U.S. government to get
this exemption for them, although the pesticide is used
on some 100 U.S. crops and to fumigate storage and transport
Strawberry farmers inject methyl bromide gas, along
with a companion chemical, chloropicrin, into the soil
a few weeks before planting. The chemicals kill fungi
and bacteria that can cause plant diseases. And they
quell weeds that would otherwise compete with young
berry plants for water, sunlight, space, and nutrients.
The California Strawberry Commission expressed its
commitment to alternatives but said that their use is
not feasible now, and said the critical use exemption
requested by the United States is "too large a
cut over too short a period." The commission asked
that its exemptions be raised to support a transition
to alternative fumigants.
The U.S. negotiator Claudia McMurray asked the Methyl
Bromide Technical Options Committee (MBTOC) to comment
on this request, and the committee responded with support
for a more flexible exemption for the strawberry growers.
But the Europe Community expressed concern over this
response, argued that the original critical use exemption
The California Certified Organic Farmers said that financial
concerns of individual farmers should not be considered
more important than environmental concerns or human
Concerned over the size of critical use exemptions
sought by the United States and other countries, the
Natural Resources Defense Council asked that Parties
protect the integrity of the Montreal Protocol by reducing
the use of methyl bromide as alternatives become available,
reporting on existing stockpiles, and providing updates
of regulatory actions to consider the latest health
and safety data on methyl bromide.
The United States says it will be using an amount of
methyl bromide that is 35 percent of its 1991 baseline
amount of the chemical. Of that amount, a maximum of
30 percent may be covered by new production. The remaining
five percent is expected to come from drawdowns from
The United States wants a still greater exemption.
The State Department says it will continue to pursue
in meetings later this year a supplemental 2005 request
of two percent of its 1991 baseline use of methyl bromide
for several agricultural sectors not included in its
But the liberal policies for granting critical use
exemptions followed by the Methyl Bromide Technical
Options Committee and the Technology and Economic Assessment
Panel (TEAP) may soon be tightened.
At an Informal Consultation on Methyl Bromide convened
on March 4 and 5 in Buenos Aires hosted by the government
of Argentina and attended by 38 experts from 22 Parties
to the Montreal Protocol, concerns were raised that
“benefit of the doubt” had been too freely
given for critical use exemptions.
Objections were raised that the technical committee and
the assessment panel should not have the ability to "independently
change the standard of review during the review without
first getting the approval of the Parties," according
to the Chairman's Report.
||“This chemical is as dangerous
to people on the ground as it is to the ozone layer,”
said Alexander von Bismarck, campaign coordinator
for the Environmental Investigation Agency. “Yet
we have no idea how much is being stockpiled, where
it is, or where it is going."
Opinions were expressed that TEAP went beyond its mandate
by recommending policy. Several participants made the
point that more methyl bromide was recommended for critical
use exemptions than would have been the case in a more
precise interpretation of the protocol.
Still, participants at the informal meeting recognized
that it was too late in the growing season to strictly
curtail the use of the pesticide without serious economic
repercussions, so they agreed to allow the TEAP recommendations
They noted that the large quantities of methyl bromide
allowed under critical use exemptions has already caused
"significant negative impact in the willingness"
of developing country Parties to phase out methyl bromide
At the Montreal meeting, the Parties began a process
for working out more detailed procedures and reporting
requirements for requesting and granting future exemptions,
emphasizing the principles of transparency and fairness.
This process will seek to more rigorously define the
economic factors that can be used to justify an exemption.
Environmentalists praised the defeat of the U.S. request
to increase production, but cautioned that the exemptions
will slow the implementation of the treaty.
They contend the Bush administration is responding
to some pesticide, chemical and corporate agribusiness
firms that are keen to relax the protocol.
“This chemical is as dangerous to people on the
ground as it is to the ozone layer,” said Alexander
von Bismarck, campaign coordinator for the Environmental
Investigation Agency. “Yet we have no idea how
much is being stockpiled, where it is, or where it is
"Before any more so-called critical exemptions
are granted next year, the U.S. government needs to
immediately figure out how much U.S. companies have
hidden away and to ensure that it is securely distributed,"
von Bismarck said.
Parties also pointed out that ensuring a more strict
and efficient process for evaluating critical use exemptions
would help Parties to the protocol to develop confidence
in the overall process for the future.
Toepfer is encouraging all governments to speed up
research on alternatives to safeguard the ozone layer
as quickly as possible. "The best way for governments
to protect the integrity of the Montreal Protocol -
one of the most successful and important international
treaties ever adopted - is to send a powerful signal
to both producers and users that methyl bromide does
not have a future," he said.
The Sixteenth Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal
Protocol will be held from November 22 to 26, 2004 in
Prague, Czech Republic. It will be preceded by an Open-Ended
Working Group from July 12 to 16 in Geneva.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights