Ozone deal hailed as blow against climate change

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OTTAWA, Sep 22 (Reuters) A deal by 191 nations to eliminate ozone-depleting substances 10 years ahead of schedule is a ''pivotal moment'' in the fight against global warming, Canadian Environment Minister John Baird said today.

Delegates at a UN conference in Montreal struck the deal late yesterday. The agreement will phase out production and use of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) for developed countries to 2020 from 2030 and to 2030 from 2040 for developing nations.

Baird singled out China -- which produces the majority of HCFCs -- for praise. When the talks began on Monday, delegates said Beijing's role would be pivotal.

Washington says the faster phase-out of HCFCs will be twice as effective as the Kyoto protocol in fighting climate change. The United States walked away from the protocol in 2001 and Canada says it cannot meet its Kyoto targets.

''It (the deal) ... will stand out as a pivotal moment in the international fight against global warming,'' Baird told a televised news conference in Montreal.

Baird said the fact that India, the United States and China -- major countries not bound by firm Kyoto targets -- had signed the deal was a promising sign ahead of talks designed to produce a climate change accord after 2012.

The UN Environment Program (UNEP) conference in Montreal marked the 20th anniversary of the Montreal protocol, which was designed to cut the use and output of chemicals found to harm the ozone layer.

Damage to the layer protecting the Earth from ultraviolet radiation has been linked to an increased risk of cancers and cataracts among humans. HCFCs are used in air conditioners and refrigerators.

'GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY' ''Governments had a golden opportunity to deal with the twin challenges of climate change and protecting the ozone layer and governments took it,'' Achim Steiner, UNEP's executive director, said in a statement.

''The precise and final savings in terms of greenhouse gas emissions could amount to several billions of tonnes,'' he said.

Under the terms of the deal, all governments agreed to freeze HCFC production by 2013 compared to average production levels in 2009 and 2010.

Developed nations agreed to cut production and consumption by 75 per cent by 2010 and by 90 percent by 2015 on the way to a full phase-out by 2020.

Developing nations committed to a 10-per cent cut in production and consumption by 2015, a 35-per cent cut by 2020, a 67.5-per cent reduction by 2025 and a phase-out by 2030.

UNEP said that delegates had agreed to find enough money to provide financial and technical help to developing nations, but gave no details. The United States said before the talks that finding enough aid to satisfy China would be crucial.

Baird told Reuters that he had been ''stunned and really pleased'' by what he called China's huge contribution during the talks. He also praised Washington's role.

UNEP said it has spent 2 billion dollars US since 1987 on helping developing nations curb the use and production of ozone-damaging substances.

A study group will now look into how much the accelerated elimination is likely to cost and is set to issue a report early next year.

REUTERS GT BD2258

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