EU ministers to clash on ozone depleters

Southern states' demand for later phase-out of methyl bromide seen as key to overall deal

EU environment ministers are facing a row over how fast to phase out the ozone-depleting pesticide methyl bromide at their quarterly meeting later this month. Diplomats have failed to reconcile differences between northern and southern EU countries on the issue. Sources suggest that the chances of doing so between now and the Environment Council are extremely small.

Phase-out of methyl bromide is seen as the last big political hurdle to agreement on a revised EU regulation on the whole range of ozone-depleting chemicals, which the Austrian government is keen to achieve under its EU presidency. The amendment would mean EU controls on ozone depleters remaining the toughest in the world.

The split over methyl bromide became evident at ministers' last meeting in October (ENDS Daily 7 October). Northern EU countries supported the European Commission's proposal of a 2001 deadline, but Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal and France called for a delay. The EU crop protection industry recently reiterated its support for a delay following a decision by the USA to relax the country's 2001 deadline for methyl bromide (ENDS Daily 17 November).

According to sources, southern EU states are now calling for a general phase-out deadline of 2003, with the potential to continue producing limited amounts up to 2005 for "exempted critical uses". An Austrian compromise paper recently put to diplomats was reportedly rejected by both northern and southern countries.

Another politically charged issue is a proposal to restrict production of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which have been widely adopted as substitutes for CFCs. A significant proportion of HCFCs produced in industrialised countries is exported to developing countries. By requiring a gradual end to their manufacture the EU hopes to send a strong signal to the USA and Japan that it is time to end global dependence on the chemicals.

However, industry groups and some governments feel that the EU is being politically naive in assuming that the USA and Japan will follow its lead rather than take advantage of the EU's absence as a global HCFC player. ENDS Daily understands that diplomats are hoping that this debate has been resolved by including a review mechanism.

A further issue is a proposal to introduce a ban on the use of CFCs and some other substances, which is due to apply as soon as the revised regulation enters into force. In effect, the ban would mean that anyone with equipment containing CFCs would have to invest in a replacement rather than keep it going with top-ups. The UK and some other countries are arguing for military equipment to be exempted from the ban.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111.

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