Canada’s success with ozone proves it can achieve Kyoto targets

Canada has been a world leader on protecting the ozone layer by eliminating damaging emissions, and yet is dragging its heels over reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This situation could be rectified if the country chose to learn the lessons of its more environmentally successful past, according to a new report from the David Suzuki Foundation.

“Canada’s successful response to ozone depletion is a powerful symbol of environmental optimism,” said David R Boyd, an environmental lawyer and professor, and author of the report. “Governments used effective laws and innovative policies to produce a remarkable 95% reduction in Canadian consumption of ozone-depleting chemicals since 1987. In contrast, when addressing climate change, Canadian governments have ignored the lessons learned in protecting the ozone layer.”

Canada has been undermining international efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, participating in the US-led efforts to weaken the Kyoto Protocol, despite having signed the agreement in 1997 and committing to 6% reductions below the 1990 level by 2010. On top of this, now that Prime Minister Jean Chretien has announced that the country will ratify the Protocol this year, large corporate lobby groups have launched an aggressive campaign against such a move.

The country was one of the first nations to ban the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in a range of consumer items such as hair spray and deodorants in the late 1970s. Canada also responded to the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, using regulations and economic instruments to eliminate such substances, says the report, such as under the 1999 Canadian Environmental Protection Act, where fines could be as high as CA$1 million, and jail sentences as hefty as five years.

Lessons learned from the experience include: that industry tends to exaggerate economic costs and technological obstacles; and that the benefits of solving environmental problems can exceed the costs.

Governments signed up to the Montreal Protocol also faced opposition from the chemicals industry, which cited three main arguments. Firstly, the industry attacked the science behind ozone depletion, claiming that there was no concrete evidence of a link between synthetic chemicals and ozone depletion. The second argument stated that CFCs were unique and irreplaceable, and that their elimination would result in devastating impact on the quality of modern lifestyles as well as on national economies.

Finally, industry stated that banning CFCs would cause 20-40 million deaths annually due to the collapse of refrigeration, with an additional five million children’s deaths due to a lack of refrigerated vaccines for immunisation, says the report.

However, in 1988, the World Meteorological Organisation produced evidence proving that certain manufactured chemicals were responsible for damaging the ozone layer. Within a week, DuPont, one of the world’s largest CFC manufacturers started the ball rolling by announcing that it would completely phase them out.

However, loopholes do remain in Canada’s ozone legislation, admits the report, with ‘essential uses’ for ozone depleting substances still being permitted, such as CFCs in asthma inhalers. Permitted substances need to be necessary for health and safety or critical for the good functioning of society where there are no feasible alternatives, says the report.

Canada also still has to eliminate two ozone-depleting substances, methyl bromide, which will be banned from 2005, and HCFCs, a CFC substitute, due for elimination by 2020. In order to accelerate their phasing out, Canada has implemented an experimental permit-trading programme.

“The protection of the earth’s ozone layer proves that Canadians are capable of summoning the wisdom necessary to protect the planet for future generations,” said Scott. “We must now apply that wisdom and will to the challenge of climate change.”

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