Ozone and Global Warming: What to Do?

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Ozone and global warming: What to do?

If a recent Senate hearing is any indicationof the congressional mindset, policymakers are convinced that ozone depletion and "greenhouse" warming are the most serious environmental problems facing the world today. And some senators at the Jan. 28 joint hearing of the Environmental Protection and the Hazardous Wastes and Toxic Substances subcommittees were steamed up for action. The question now is: What action is best?

One course being taken by the UnitedStates and other countries is to negotiate controls of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)--human-made chemicals used for refrigeration and other purposes -- and other compounds that attack stratospheric ozone. In early December, under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 120 participants from 25 nations met in Geneva, Switzerland, to begin negotiations through the Vienna Convention for Protection of the Ozone Layer, which was ratified by the United States in August 1986.

According to Assistant Secretary ofState John D. Negroponte, who testified at the Jan. 28 hearing, the U.S. proposal contains three points: a near-term freeze of ozone-attacking chemicals at their 1986 levels; a longer-term phaseout; and a periodic reevaluation of goals. Negroponte told the subcommittees that Canada, Finland, Norway and Sweden generally support the U.S. approach.

The greatest resistance, particularly toa long-term phaseout, has come from Japan and the Soviet Union, who want to ensure use of CFCs for their technological development, and from the European Communities. According to the lead U.S. negotiator, Richard Benedick, the European Communities are reluctant to use the flammable substitutes for destructive CFCs because they pose a risk for their many small factories nestled in cities. Benedick also notes that European chemical companies have a strong influence on their governments and that European environmental groups have yet to take up the ozone issue with gusto.

Negroponte says that before the nextround of negotiations takes place Feb. 23-27, the United States will consult with other nations in a variety of ways. For example, a U.S. scientific team will exchange information on ozone depletion when it visits the Soviet Union Feb. 3-9.

But while Negroponte and Benedickhave stressed how far negotiations have come, Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.) has criticized the U.S. delegation for "backing off from its original position" of seeking a near-term freeze and scheduled phaseout, to a more general attempt to discuss the reduction of CFC levels. …