Tiny East Timor on Wednesday signed a UN treaty to protect the Earth's fragile ozone layer, making it the first environmental pact to achieve backing from all 196 member states, the United Nations said.
The Montreal Protocol is designed to phase-out man-made chemicals that damage the planet's ozone layer, which shields life from harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun that can cause skin cancer, cataracts and reduce plant yields.
The pact has been so successful that the UN says 97 per cent of all ozone-depleting substances controlled by the 1987 protocol have been phased out.
Substances being phased out have been widely used in refrigerators, air-conditioners, fire extinguishers as well as solvents for cleaning electronic equipment and include chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, halons and methyl bromide.
East Timor, formerly part of Indonesia and just to the north of Australia, is one of the world's youngest nations.
The director of the UN Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, said without the pact, levels of ozone-depleting substances would have increased tenfold by 2050. This in turn could have led to up to 20 million more cases of skin cancer and 130 million more cataract cases. Some of the same gases also contribute to climate change.
"By some estimates, the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances has since 1990 contributed a delay in global warming of some seven to 12 years underlining that a dollar spent on ozone has paid handsomely across other environmental challenges," Steiner said in a statement.
The UN says global observations have verified that atmospheric levels of key ozone-depleting substances are going down.
[Reporting by David Fogarty; Editing by Tomasz Janowski.]