Remarks at the Fourth Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol

by William K. Reilly
[EPA speech - November 23, 1992]

Mr. Chairman, distinguished colleagues, friends all: It is with great pleasure that I speak to you this morning at this Fourth Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol.

I wish to express our gratitude to the government and people of Denmark for hosting this important meeting, and for demonstrating in their own history a notable capacity to build economic success upon leadership in environmental technology exports. We meet as guests of a country whose own environment reflects a high cultural priority, a fitting example of a society which has successfully integrated its high environmental standards with its notable economic progress.

Destruction of stratospheric ozone deserves the highest international environmental priority. Even with a year 2000 phaseout, we estimate that it will result in 5 million cases of cancer and 70,000 deaths in the United States over the next century. Ozone depletion over the mid latitudes of the North American continent has been recorded at 3 to 5 percent in the most recent satellite measurement. So we confront a sobering problem that is getting worse, not better, since we last met.

Nevertheless, the world community understands and agrees upon the severity of the global threat we face, and is united on the direction in which we must proceed. Scientific consensus has provided the basis for high priority and general uniformity in the policies of nations, and that is a great source of encouragement for our capacity to restabilize stratospheric ozone, but also to rise to meet other threats to the natural support systems of the planet in the future.

We have ample reason to be positive and hopeful. In this land of Hans Christian Andersen, the emperors don't have to pretend to have clothes on; where protection of the ozone layer is concerned, they are--they have been--generally well covered. (Of course, were they without clothes they would increase their exposure to cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation, a problem not faced by the naked emperor of the Hans Christian Anderson story.)

Seriously, there is vital and important work to do here. There are four critical priorities for our meeting.

First, we must accelerate the phaseout of CFCs, halons, carbon tetrachloride, and methyl chloroform. The difference between phaseout at current treaty requirements and an acceleration as announced for the United States by President Bush earlier this year is a potential reduction of one million cancers and 10,000 deaths through the year 2075 in the United States. Happily, I consider that we are well along in progress toward achieving this priority of the meeting, at least among the developed nations.

Developing countries confront a special financial problem. Our second priority then must be the permanent establishment of the Multilateral Fund, and the replenishment of that Fund at a level that will meet the needs of developing countries. To suggest that any outcome short of this is even remotely possible would be to shatter the delicate balance and disavow the bargain struck in London two years ago. It shocks me that there are countries who -- as recently as last week -- questioned the commitment we all made in London to permanently establish the Multilateral Fund at this meeting.

It is more disturbing to realize that even today some parties remain unable or unwilling to reaffirm their financial commitment to the Fund beyond next year. As many here will recall, the successful negotiations in London were conducted in a spirit of reciprocity and trust. If we do not preserve this spirit, we put at risk the greatest example of global environmental cooperation in history. Our commitment to this Fund and this Protocol--and to the trust that has been the hallmark of our meetings over the years--must not weaken.

Finance ministries must be brought to understand that ozone depletion is not yesterday's problem, that it is not a problem only for when times are good and economies are strong, or when the environment is fashionable and politically correct.

The United States supports the permanent establishment of the Fund, a three-year commitment to the Fund of perhaps as much as $500 million, and a commitment for 1994 that exceeds the $113 million that has been committed for 1993.

Third, the United States is unwavering in its support for adopting strong control measures that will protect the stratospheric ozone layer. With this objective in mind, the United States has championed the need for decisive action to control methyl bromide. The environmental threat from this chemical cannot be denied. With a steady-state ozone depletion potential of 0.7, a ten-year ozone depletion potential of 5.0, and worldwide production estimated at 67 kilotons, methyl bromide cannot be ignored or deferred. We must act now to reduce its use and to phase out its production and consumption by the year 2000.

I understand that many other countries still have some difficulties with this position. But I cannot understand how some of these countries can hold out for weaker controls on methyl bromide while insisting on stricter controls and earlier phaseouts of the much less harmful HCFCs.

Let me emphasize here that the ozone layer knows the difference between these substances. Anthropogenic emissions of methyl bromide account for as much as 15 percent of ozone depletion in the year 2000. The difference between completely phasing out HCFCs in 2020 and allowing a very small quantity, perhaps one percent of initial substitution, to be used until 2030, is the equivalent of only a few days of CFC production at today's reduced rate over a 10-year period.

On the other hand, the difference between a freeze of methyl bromide at 1991 levels by the year 2000 and a complete phaseout in that year is the equivalent of five extra months of CFC production at today's rate every year, using the ten-year ozone depletion potential. This means that if we hesitate and delay the phaseout of methyl bromide for 10 years, our inaction would have the effect of more than four additional years of CFC production at today's rate! Even a modest reduction of 25 percent by 2000, as compared to a freeze in that year, would be the equivalent of one entire year of additional CFC production.

I urge those countries who are reluctant to take strong action on methyl bromide to reconsider their position. And I urge those who go far beyond a stringent control regime for HCFCs--for the sake of appearances only--to reevaluate their proposals. One of our tasks here should be to reassure producers and consumers of HCFCs that those transition chemicals are important, that CFCs cannot be kept in commerce or equipment plans pending a new generation of post-HCFC chemicals still over the horizon, and that HCFC phaseout deadlines will be virtually complete by 2020, but that a tiny remaining one- to two-percent tail they consider vital to key investment plans be provided for.

Protection of the ozone layer is our essential mission here in Copenhagen, and the control schedules we agree to must reflect this mission. If we do so, the spotlight must fall on acceleration of phaseout for CFCs, halons, carbon tetrachloride, and methyl bromide by the year 2000, and on establishing an ample, independent multilateral fund in the $500 million range over the next three years, with specific replenishment commitments for the coming year in excess of past levels.

Mr. Chairman, in the United States we have worked long and hard to require the recycling of CFCs, to ban their nonessential uses and to ensure that CFC substitutes are safe and effective. The United States has strict controls on CFCs in our clean air laws, and we have already brought several criminal actions against those who attempted to violate those laws. We have placed a heavy and rising tax on manufacture of CFCs, and just last month raised that tax yet again. We are currently manufacturing 50 percent less CFCs than required by our treaty obligations.

The community of nations is on the right track. I hope profoundly that this meeting will see us go further in the ways I have set forth.

The Montreal Protocol represents a triumphant achievement of scientific measurement, of technology development, of economic sacrifice, and of global cooperation for the common good. It is the crown jewel in our growing treasure of environmental treaties, the highest expression of international capacity and will to protect a vital planetary system. It embodies the human spirit at its finest. Let us work together to ensure that this spirit can endure through our meeting and through the long, the never ending, but ultimately essential and rewarding process of protecting our global environment.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The Fourth Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol convened in Copenhagen, Denmark