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  Environmental Policy Issues

Ozone Depletion
(Released December 1998)

 

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This month's topic is Ozone Depletion.

The first Congressional Research Service Report (CRS), Stratospheric Ozone Depletion: Implementation Issues (September 14, 1998) addresses domestic implementation issues of the continued demand for ozone-depleting substances, particularly for CFC-12 (used in automobile air conditioners)

The second CRS report, Stratospheric Ozone Depletion: Regulatory Issues (November 4, 1996) outlines international involvement in the ozone depletion problem. The Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer creates a framework for international cooperation on research, monitoring, and exchange of information, and provides procedures for developing control measures as needed.

The third CRS report, An Overview of NASA's Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) (March 1,1995) discusses this program which provides scientific information so policymakers and scientists can formulate strategies to mitigate human impacts on Earth's environment, such as ozone depletion, deforestation, and possible global warming.

© Copyright 1998, All Rights Reserved, CSA

 

CRS Reports

Stratospheric Ozone Depletion: Implementation Issues

Summary

For two decades, scientists have been warning that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons (bromine-containing fluorocarbons) may deplete the stratospheric ozone shield that screens out some of the Sun's harmful ultraviolet rays and thus regulates the amounts which reach the Earth's surface. CFCs have been used as refrigerants, solvents, foam blowing agents, and outside the United States, as aerosol propellants; Halons are used primarily as firefighting agents. Increased radiation could result in an increase in skin cancers, suppression of the human immune system, and decreased productivity of terrestrial and aquatic organisms, including some commercially important crops.

In September 1987, 47 countries (including the United States) agreed to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which first required controls on the world's consumption of ozone depleting substances. Over 120 countries have signed on to the Protocol, whose phasedown schedule was accelerated twice and completely phased out Halon production at the end of 1994 and CFC production at the end of 1995. The Protocol's coverage has also been extended to include hydrochlorofluorocarbons and other chlorine- and bromine-containing substances such as some solvents and methyl bromide, a widely used soil fumigant.

At their meeting in Vienna (December 1995), the Parties agreed to phase down the use of HCFCs in developing countries and to phase out production of methyl bromide in developed countries by 2010, to cap its production in developing countries in 2002, and to revisit the role of methyl bromide in developing countries in 1997. The United States has not considered ratification of the Vienna adjustments to date.

About one-third of the demand for the primary ozone-depleting substances has been eliminated through conservation. Another third has been replaced by changes to ozone layer-friendly technologies. The remaining third, largely in air conditioning, refrigeration, and rigid foam blowing, is turning to substitute substances such as HCFCs (which have 1 to 10% of the ozone-depleting potential of CFCs and are thus also on a schedule to be phased out by 2030), HFCs (some of which have significant global warming potentials), and light hydrocarbons (which are flammable and tend to be less energy-efficient).

Meeting demand continues to be the primary domestic implementation issues, particularly demand for CFC-12 (used in automobile air conditioners). Higher prices for CFC-12 have made alternatives more attractive, and may encourage further development. However, currently, there are no "drop in " substitutes for CFC-12.

This situation has encouraged smuggling of CFC-12 into the United States and calls for more aggressive enforcement. In April, 1998, the environmental ministers of the G-8 countries announced plans to crack down on CFC smuggling.

Methyl bromide phaseout continues to be controversial. The Vienna adjustments permit a longer phaseout schedule than permitted under the Clean Air Act; also, there are only limited alternatives available.

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Stratospheric Ozone Depletion: Regulatory Issues

Summary

For two decades, scientists have been warning that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and Halons (bromine-containing fluorocarbons) may deplete the stratospheric ozone shield that screens out some of the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays and thus regulates the amounts which reach the Earth's surface. CFCs have been used as refrigerants, solvents, foam blowing agents, and outside the United States as aerosol propellants; Halons are used primarily as firefighting agents. Increased radiation could result in an increase in skin cancers, suppression of the human immune system, and decreased productivity of terrestrial and aquatic organisms, including some commercially important crops.

Recent evidence has strengthened the scientific case against CFCs and Halons and has revealed that ozone concentrations have begun to decline throughout the stratosphere, even in the Temperate Zones. Although much remains to be learned about the behavior of trace gases in the atmosphere, most scientists active in atmospheric research believe they have identified the key chemical species, their sources, and their modes of action. Some scientists remain unconvinced, but do not discount the possibility that the threat may be real.

Scientists have also maintained that CFCs are also "greenhouse gases" and thus contributory to the possibility of global climate change. However, some very recent findings have cast doubt on this.

In September 1987, 47 countries agreed to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which first froze world consumption of specified CFCs and Halons and by 2000 would reduce CFC consumption 50%. Currently, over 120 countries have signed on to the Protocol, whose phasedown schedule was accelerated twice and included a complete phaseout of Halons at the end of 1994 and of CFCs by the end of 1995. The Protocol's coverage has also been extended to include hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and other chlorine-and bromine-containing substances such as some solvents and methyl bromide, a widely used soil fumigant.

About one-third of the demand for the primary ozone-depleting substances has been eliminated through conservation. Another third has been replaced by changes to ozone layer-friendly technologies. The remaining third, largely in air conditioning, refrigeration, and rigid foam blowing, is turning to substitute substances such as HCFCs (which have 1 to 10% of the ozone-depleting potential of CFCs and are thus also on a schedule to be phased out by 2030), HFCs (some of which have significant global warming potentials), and light hydrocarbons (which are flammable and tend to be less energy-efficient).

At their latest meeting (Vienna, December 1995), the Parties agreed to phase down the use of HCFCs in developing countries and to phase out production of methyl bromide in developed countries by 2010, to cap its production in developing countries in 2002, and to revisit the role of methyl bromide in developing countries in 1997. Current remaining issues are basically associated with compliance by member countries, including a rising amount of smuggling of CFCs.

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An Overview of NASA's Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE)

Summary

Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) central contribution to the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). The MTPE program provides scientific information so policymakers and scientists can formulate strategies to mitigate human impacts on Earth's environment, such as ozone depletion, deforestation, and possible global warming. MTPE includes a constellation of satellites in various Earth orbits: the program's centerpiece known as the Earth Observing System (EOS) and small satellites known as the Earth Probes. The program also includes Landsat 7, ground and aircraft based research, the EOS Data Information System (EOSDIS), and a community of scientists performing research with acquired data from previous or ongoing projects known as phase one missions. The objective of EOS is to acquire a long-term, comprehensive set of environmental measurements about the Earth, particularly those related to global climate change.

In addition, the MTPE program includes data from international Earth observation programs and cooperative projects with Canada, the European Space Agency (ESA), Japan, and Russia. NASA has performed many Earth science programs in the past. This report describes some of the ongoing NASA programs that are considered MTPE phase one missions. EOS and the Earth Probes were new starts in FY 1991, and in 1993 MTPE was taken out of NASA's Office of Space Science and Applications to become a stand alone program office.

For FY 1996, NASA has $1.340 billion available for MTPE. In February 1995, NASA released its FY 1996 budget request; the proposed figure for MTPE is $1.341 billion

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