UN-backed effort to halt illegal trade in ozone depleting chemicals reports successes

1 March 2007 – A United Nations-backed initiative to curb illegal trade in chemicals that damage the ozone layer, the naturally occurring gas that filters out cancer- and cataract-causing ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, has reported it first promising results ahead of today’s start of its second phase.

Up to 64.8 tons of illegal ozone depleting substance (ODS) have been recorded in China, India, Thailand and other countries following the start of Project Skyhole Patching, an initiative launched on 1 September by China Customs, coordinated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and operated by related customs administrations and international organizations in the region.

The project seeks to combat illegal trade in ODS and hazardous waste in the Asia Pacific region and involves 20 customs and environmental authorities from 18 countries. The hazardous waste phase begins today.

“It is encouraging to see that our training efforts, involving customs and enforcement officers in the 18 participating countries is beginning to have payoffs,” UNEP Policy and Enforcement Officer Ludgarde Coppens said.

Since the project began, customs in Hong Kong, India and Thailand have played an active role in sharing information on ODS. Some countries like Viet Nam and Cambodia are holding bilateral discussions on illegal ODS trade.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are among ozone depleting substances targeted for phase out under the Montreal Protocol. Now entering its 20th year the Protocol, one of the most successful environmental agreements to date, has succeeded in phasing out ODS in developed countries, led to the closure of many ODS producing plants and deterred the creation of industries that use them.

But the phase-out becomes more crucial for developing countries as the date they have pledged for completion in 2010 approaches. Illegal trade in CFCs and other ODS is expected to grow as a complete ban is enforced. Studies indicate that trade in illegal ODS represents nearly 10 to 20 per cent of all trade in ODS. CFCs alone account for 7,000 to 14000 tons of this trade, valued at $25-60 million.

Project Skyhole Patching partner states are: Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, the Maldives, Mongolia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam.

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