By David Reed, UT EditorDakar-In September of this year, the annual Antarctic spring ozone 'hole' reached a maximum of 10 000 square miles (25 900 sq km), equivalent to the size of North America, and close to the record set in 2003, according to a statement issued by UNEP (the United Nations Environmental Programme).To continue to address the problem, the member states of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer have agreed to a budget of $470 million to support the continuing transition by developing countries to CFC-free refrigerators and other ozone-safe technologies during the three-year period 2006 - 2008, UNEP said in a 16 Dec. statement.In addition, UNEP reported that a new scientific study concludes that, even if the chemical phase-outs agreed under the Montreal Protocol are fully achieved, the ozone layer will not fully recover until 2065 - 15 years later than previously estimated - due to the continued release of CFCs from old equipment in developed countries.A depleted ozone layer allows more UV-B radiation to reach the Earth's surface. Risks include more melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers, more eye cataracts, weakened immune systems, reduced plant yields, damage to ocean eco-systems, reduced fishing yields, adverse effects on animals, and more damage to plastics.Under the Protocol, developing countries have until 2010 to phase out CFCs and halons, and until 2015 to phase out methyl bromide (a fumigant for high-value crops). The newly agreed funding package will supplement the almost $2000 million already disbursed since 1990 by the Protocol's Multilateral Fund on capacity-building and projects for phasing out ozone-depleting substances."Completing the phase out of CFCs by developing countries is essential for returning the stratospheric ozone layer to health," said Marco Gonzalez, executive secretary of the Protocol, which was negotiated under the auspices of the UN Environment Programme. "Today's agreement demonstrates that the global partnership for ozone protection is alive and well," he saidOther issues addressed in Dakar included the challenge of reducing illegal trafficking in CFCs and other substances, and a recent joint report of the Protocol's Technology and Economics Assessment Panel and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on ozone and global warming interlinkages entitled 'Safeguarding the Ozone Layer and the Global Climate System.'This week's conference consisted of the seventh meeting of the conference of the parties to the Vienna convention for the protection of the ozone layer and the 17th meeting of the parties to the Montreal protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer. The conference also celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Vienna convention."