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Global warming fight may get boost from ozone plan
OSLO (Reuters) - Countries can take a big and easy step this year to combat climate change by agreeing to tighten a U.N. treaty outlawing gases that damage the ozone layer, the U.N. Environment Programme said on Friday.
Most efforts to cut greenhouse gases focus on axing use of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, with everyone from leaders of major industrialized nations to rock stars lining up this year to urge deeper cuts and shifts to cleaner energies.
But UNEP said the 1987 Montreal Protocol on ozone may take one of the biggest steps to reduce climate change this year if nations agree at talks in September to speed up the phase-out of HCFCs, used in refrigerants. HCFCs destroy ozone and are also powerful greenhouse gases.
"In combating climate change there are many 'quick wins'," said Achim Steiner, head of UNEP, noting simple measures such as a phase-out of old-fashioned, incandescent light bulbs or steps to boost the energy efficiency of buildings.
"Perhaps heads of state might want to consider adding an accelerated phase out of HCFCs to a 'quick win' climate list," he told Reuters.
He noted that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will host a high level international meeting on climate change in New York on September 24, just after the 191-nation meeting in Montreal, Canada, on September 17-21 to discuss extra ozone layer protection.
The Montreal Protocol banned chemicals, once common from hairsprays to refrigerants, that were thinning the ozone layer shielding the planet from damaging ultra-violet rays that can cause skin cancer. UNEP says the ozone layer is now on track to recover to its pre-1980 thickness by 2050-75.
Some estimates indicate that as a side effect its curbs are doing more than the Kyoto Protocol, the main U.N. plan to combat climate change, in limiting the greenhouse gases that are widely blamed for stoking floods, heatwaves, and rising seas.
UNEP said many countries favor doing more to cut use of HCFCs even though use of the chemicals is rising sharply in developing nations, where the gases were introduced as a less ozone-damaging alternative than a group of gases known as CFCs.
"The acceleration (of HCFC use) is taking place in a number of developing countries, but is most pronounced in China and India," said Paul Horwitz, Deputy Executive Secretary of UNEP's Ozone Secretariat.
"A major reason is the increased use of air conditioning and refrigeration equipment that rely on HCFCs," he said.
Overall, production of ozone-depleting substances has tumbled to 83,000 tonnes a year from 1.8 million in 1987 thanks to the Montreal Protocol. But developing nations' emissions from HCFCs are set to double by 2015 to the equivalent of 50,000 tonnes of ozone-depleting substances.
HCFCs -- or hydrochlorofluorocarbons -- are more powerful greenhouse gases than many other alternatives to CFCs. Manufacture of the most widely used HCFC emits byproducts that are among the most potent global warming gases.
At the Montreal talks, six proposals are on the table to speed up an acceleration of the phase-out of HCFCs, now due by 2030 in developed nations and by 2040 in developing countries.
UNEP says that a group of Dutch and U.S. scientists estimated that, over 1990 to 2010, the Montreal Protocol will avert perhaps 8-11 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, against just two billion under Kyoto.
And the Montreal Protocol could deliver further cuts of a billion tonnes if a phase-out of HCFCs is accelerated.
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