UK knew of problems with CFC substitutes

Independent, 28 April 1993:

Michael Howard attempts to rewrite environmental history (letter, 27 April). The UK Government has been well aware of the problems with CFC substitutes for some years but, far from seeking to limit their use, it has been actively promoting their supposed benefits.

While it is true that HCFC 22 is far less damaging to the ozone layer than fully halogenated CFCs, it is still a powerful greenhouse gas and would, if uncontrolled, contribute 15 per cent of global warming due to CO2 alone by the year 2030. Similarly, HFC 134A, ICI’s favoured CFC substitute, would contribute 15 per cent of global warming due to CO2 alone by the year 2100.

This information was available in 1988 on the occasion of an international conference on ozone depletion that I organised in London. The UK Government was aware of these data, because the conference was opened by Virginia Bottomley and attended by civil servants from the Department of the Environment. In addition, the information has been published subsequently and sent direct to the Cabinet Office (see, for example, the Lancet of 15 April, 1989).

However, some governments exhibit even less responsibility than the UK’s. For example, the Indian government is proposing to de-license firms producing cars, fridges and air-conditioning equipment, the latter two being heavy users of CFCs. Clearly, by removing such industries from government control, it seeks to avoid all legal requirements imposed by any international agreement in the field of air pollution or ozone depletion.

Well done, UK! By holding up progress for five years, you have allowed India time to escape its international obligations.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire