Ozone-Friendly Chemicals Lead to Warming
Sunday, August 20, 2006; 5:40 PM
WASHINGTON -- Cool your home, warm the planet. When more than two dozen countries undertook in 1989 to fix the ozone hole over Antarctica, they began replacing chloroflourocarbons in refrigerators, air conditioners and hair spray.
But they had little idea that using other gases that contain chlorine or fluorine instead also would contribute greatly to global warming.
CFCs destroy ozone, the atmospheric layer that helps protect against the sun's most harmful rays, and trap the earth's heat, contributing to a rise in average surface temperatures.
In theory, the ban should have helped both problems. But the countries that first signed the Montreal Protocol 17 years ago failed to recognize that CFC users would seek out the cheapest available alternative.
The chemicals that replaced CFCs are better for the ozone layer, but do little to help global warming. These chemicals, too, act as a reflective layer in the atmosphere that traps heat like a greenhouse.
That effect is at odds with the intent of a second treaty, drawn up in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 by the same countries behind the Montreal pact. In fact, the volume of greenhouse gases created as a result of the Montreal agreement's phaseout of CFCs is two times to three times the amount of global-warming carbon dioxide the Kyoto agreement is supposed to eliminate.
This unintended consequence now haunts the nations that signed both U.N. treaties.
Switzerland first tried in 1990 to sound an alarm that the solution for plugging the ozone hole might contribute to another environmental problem. The reaction?
"Nothing, or almost," said Blaise Horisberger, the Swiss representative to U.N.-backed Montreal treaty. "We have been permanently raising this issue. It has been really difficult."
Horisberger, a biologist with the Swiss Agency for the Environment, Forests and Landscape, kept trying. Finally, the first formal, secret talks on the subject were held in Montreal last month.
"Saving the ozone layer by reducing CFCs and at the same time promoting alternatives was an urgent crisis in the early years of the Montreal Protocol," said Marco Gonzalez, the treaty's executive secretary, in Nairobi, Kenya. "Now there is always a need to find new substances which are safe, energy-efficient and also have minimal impact across a range of environmental issues."
The Montreal Protocol, which now has 189 member nations, is considered one of the most effective environmental treaties. Almost $2.1 billion has been spent through an affiliated fund to prod countries to stop making and using CFCs and other ozone-damaging chemicals in refrigerators, air conditioners, foams and other products.