Compromise reached on methyl bromide critical uses

An extraordinary meeting of parties to the Montreal Protocol has granted generous exemptions to the US and other developed countries allowing continued use of the ozone-depleting pesticide methyl bromide after the 2004 phase-out deadline. However, the meeting did not concede US requests for multi-year exemptions, and tightened measures to restrict use of the compound in future.

Last November, the fifteenth meeting of the parties to the Protocol in Nairobi failed to agree several issues relating to methyl bromide (ENDS Report 346, p 57 ). The chemical is used as a pesticide on crops like strawberries, tomatoes, melons and cut flowers and as a fumigant in food processing facilities.

The Protocol requires that the pesticide be phased out in developed countries by the beginning of 2005. However, there was concern at the Nairobi meeting about the size of critical use exemptions sought by the US and other parties. Such exemptions are allowed only where there are no technically or economically feasible alternatives or for health and safety reasons.

It was the first time that a Protocol meeting had failed to reach agreement. The Parties responded by calling an extraordinary meeting in Montreal to resolve the issues.

The Montreal meeting on 24-26 March was attended by 360 participants from 114 countries. The central issue was a stand-off between the US, which had applied for 9,500 tonnes of critical use exemptions in 2005 and multi-year exemptions for the future, and the EU, which stressed the need for progressive reductions in the size of exemptions.

The US stressed the practicality of multi-year exemptions and the lack of alternative technologies. The EU argued that significant and multi-year exemptions would undermine the treaty by acting as a disincentive to the development of alternatives.

In the event, the meeting agreed critical use exemptions for 2005 only (see table). The US did not receive all the exemptions it requested for strawberry growers, but an application for an increase in exemptions by Spanish growers was allowed after both applications were put on a common footing.

The US request for multi-year critical use exemptions was deferred for consideration at the next meeting in November.

All parties also agreed to cap their production of methyl bromide at 30% of their 1991 levels. The main country where critical use exemptions will exceed this level is the US. The 30% cap will limit US production to 7,659 tonnes and the remaining 1,300 tonnes will have to be supplied from stockpiles.

The 30% cap will require precise accounting of methyl bromide stocks, although critical use exemptions in most other countries are well below 30% of 1991 baselines. Italy and Spain each have substantial exemptions which represent 30.5% and 25% of their baselines, respectively. The eight EU countries agreed to supply 100 tonnes of their combined 4,011-tonne exemption from stockpiles.

The meeting also agreed measures to speed up the phase-out of methyl bromide, in particular by requiring parties seeking critical use exemptions after 2005 to submit management strategies for reducing and eliminating critical uses to the Protocol secretariat by February 2006.

There will also be an increasing focus in the secretariat on reviewing critical use exemptions annually, and reviews of alternatives and substitutes.

Some parties expressed dissatisfaction with the Protocol's Methyl Bromide Technical Options Committee (MBTOC), which considers requests for critical use exemptions. The committee was seen to be too ready to bow to the requests of other parties, with insufficient technical expertise to take its own decisions.

The meeting voted to ask an ad hoc committee to review MBTOC's transparency, representation and application of the critical-use criteria. The findings will be considered in November.