UN Report Reveals Ozone Layer Healing
On Monday, the World Meteorological Organization presented a report titled “Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 2018”– the latest in the series of studies published every four years –which revealed a significant recovery of the ozone layer from anthropogenic damage. It is estimated that at the current rate of recovery of 1 to 3 percent, the ozone layer will be healed by 2030 in the Northern Hemisphere, with the Antarctic hole completely disappearing in 2060.
The recovery of the ozone layer will solve a number of ecological and health-related problems. Normally, the 40-kilometer thick coating of the ozone layer protects Earth from ultraviolet radiation, which can cause skin cancer and cataracts, as well as damaging crops. In addition, a thick ozone layer prevents the planet from heating up and thus slows the process of global warming. The latter effect is pertinent to a report released just a month ago by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), outlining a pessimistic outlook on the consequences of the expected 1.5°C temperature rise compared to pre-industrial levels.
The ozone layer started to thin in the 1970s as a result of intensive use of aerosols and cooling and refrigeration systems that contain chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone-depleting substances. Ozone, which consists of three oxygen atoms, is naturally destroyed and created in the atmosphere. However, CFCs release chlorine atoms, which break the natural cycle of ozone formation and result in the destruction of more molecules than can be formed over the same period of time. The lowest level of ozone molecules in the stratosphere was reached in the late 1990s when about 10% of the layer disappeared.
In 1987, 196 countries signed the Montreal Protocol, intended to remove CFCs from the atmosphere by replacing them with alternatives in spray cans and other products. Since then, the ozone layer has slowly recovered. In the 2000s, the healing rate was between 1 and 3 percent. Paul Newman, chief Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, explained: “If ozone-depleting substances had continued to increase, we would have seen huge effects. We stopped that.”
Today, the ozone layer is expected to be fully repaired by the middle of the century. However, it remains important to continually combat any further damage. Next year the Montreal Protocol will be bolstered by the Kigali Amendment, which limits hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, summarized: “The Montreal Protocol is one of the most successful multilateral agreements in history for a reason. The careful mix of authoritative science and collaborative action that has defined the Protocol for more than 30 years and was set to heal our ozone layer is precisely why the Kigali Amendment holds such promise for climate action in future.”