WITH the signature of the 12-member European Community now placed upon it, the treaty to protect the ozone layer will come into force Jan. 1 as planned. At least 11 nations representing two- thirds or more of the world's production of ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) chemicals had to sign the treaty to give it life. The community's ratification - plus that of 8 other nations - more than meets this requirement.
This is an important step toward effective international cooperation to protect our global environment. But it is only a step. Many experts already are calling the treaty's curbs on CFC production inadequate. Moreover, it addresses only one aspect of humanity's environmental assault, which includes extensive air and water pollution, massive forest destruction, and global warming.
The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer will freeze signatories' CFC production at 1986 levels and then cut it in half by 1999. However, ongoing research continues to identify CFCs as the main culprits in ozone loss in the Arctic as well as Antarctic and, perhaps, in other areas as well. So pressure is building to phase them out altogether. This is certain to be at the top of the agenda for the world conference on ozone protection that Britain hosts in March and for the April meeting in Finland to review the Montreal Protocol.
Chemical companies are already racing to find enough substitutes for CFCs as spray-can propellants, foaming agents, and industrial cleaning agents. Finding substitutes for all CFC uses - including air conditioning and refrigeration - could be an overwhelming challenge. Governments themselves would probably have to back an intensive research effort to find such substitutes in this century.
In fact, substantial increases in government-funded research into all aspects of the global environment is the biggest immediate need in organizing effective international environmental protection.
Forestry scientists note that, besides knowing the environmental role of forests, we need to find better ways to manage woodland on a sustainable basis. Climatologists point out that we need to do more than trace the effects of carbon dioxide and other pollutants on climate. We also need to develop economically sound ways for both rich and poor nations to curb their use of carbon-dioxide-producing fossil fuels.
The new administration and Congress should consider this in setting research priorities for the United States. But the administration should also take the lead in encouraging other nations to pursue such research.
No country can do the job alone. It is an area ripe for extensive cooperative action. If nations pursue this vigorously now, the Montreal Protocol could indeed be the prototype for larger global action to protect the environment.