Both rich and poor countries agree to make big pollution cuts

In a first-time move, rich and poor nations both agree to make big pollution cuts

For the first time ever, rich and poor countries yesterday both agreed to make big pollution cuts in order to up the fight against global warming. And, surprisingly, the Bush administration led the initiative.

New UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, is hosting a meeting tomorrow with 70 government heads to kick-start an international treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol when its current provisions run out in 2012.

The breakthrough came after negotiations – under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – on strengthening another treaty, the Montreal Protocol on the ozone layer, first agreed 20 years ago.

Negotiators from 190 countries agreed to accelerate the banning of earth-damaging hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), used in refrigeration and air-conditioning. Under the protocol’s existing provisions, the HCFCs were due to be phased out by 2030 in rich countries, and by 2040 in poor ones but, at last week’s meeting, negotiators accepted a proposal – put forward by the Bush administration – to bring both deadlines forward by a decade.

The treaty – which will also see all countries cutting emissions – will not only help to heal the ozone layer faster, but will combat global warming as well.

Achim Steiner, UNEP’s executive director, told the Independent: ‘Historic is an often over-used word, but not in the case of this agreement. Governments had a golden opportunity to deal with the twin challenges of climate change and protecting the ozone layer – and governments took it.’

This accelerated phase-out is estimated to be the equivalent of cutting 25 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions over the coming decades, compared with two million tonnes due to be saved by the Kyoto protocol between 2008 and 2012.

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