An intergovernmental meeting of the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer has granted limited "critical-use exemptions" to 11 countries facing a year-end deadline for phasing out methyl bromide.
The 11 countries that have received exemptions to the phase-out totaling 13,438 metric tons of methyl bromide for 2005 are Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Greece, Japan, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The Montreal Protocol allows governments to apply for exemption for health or safety reasons or when there are no technologically or economically feasible alternatives. The exemptions are intended to give farmers, fumigators and other users of methyl bromide additional time to adopt cost-effective substitutes for the pesticide.
Methyl bromide has been used as a soil fumigant and structural fumigant to control pests across a wide range of agricultural sectors. Under the Montreal Protocol of 1991, the pesticide was defined as a chemical that contributes to the depletion of the Earth's stratospheric ozone layer. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it has contributed to a total of about 4 percent of the ozone's depletion in that last 20 years. Of this, about 2.5 percent can be attributed to agricultural fumigation activities. The continued use of methyl bromide as an agricultural pesticide can contribute to 5-15 percent of future depletion to the ozone if it is not phased out.
"The best way for governments to protect the integrity of the Montreal Protocol-one of the most successful and important international treaties ever adopted-is to send a powerful signal to both producers and users that methyl bromide does not have a future," said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Under the Montreal Protocol, developed countries have agreed to reduce methyl bromide by 25 percent by 1999, 50 percent by 2001, 70 percent by 2003 and 100 percent by 2005, except for the allowable critical-use exemptions. According to UNEP, for developing countries that contributed less to ozone depletion, the schedule started with a 2002 freeze and continues with reductions of 20 percent by 2005 and 100 percent by 2015.
According to the EPA, the United States has been one of the largest agricultural bases in the world, contributing to 40 percent of the methyl bromide used, more than any other country. As the phase-out has progressed, the United States share of the pesticide has decreased. The United States has agreed to limit its 2005 production levels for methyl bromide to 7,659 tons, equal to 30 percent of the baseline, as compared to 35 percent for its exemption.
"The high demand for exemptions to the methyl bromide phase-out shows that governments and the private sector will have to work much harder to speed up the development and spread of ozone-friendly replacements," Toepfer explained.
According to the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), there is no known single alternative fumigant, chemical or other technology that can readily substitute for methyl bromide. Research by the USDA indicates that multiple alternative control measures will be required to replace the many uses of methyl bromide. The effective application of a single alternative control measure or combination will be limited to a specific crop or use because crops have varying requirements and variations in target pests, soul types, climates, and state and local regulations.
According to UNEP, in addition to accepting the exemptions for 2005, the intergovernmental meeting launched a process for elaborating more detailed procedures and reporting requirements for requesting and granting future exemptions. "This process will also seek to more rigorously define the economic factors that can be used to justify an exemption."