Good news: the hole in the ozone layer has gotten smaller – all thanks to international collaboration, phasing out chemicals that created the damage.
The ozone layer provides a layer of sun protection, protecting ecosystems, along with human skin and eye health, by limiting the harmful ultraviolet radiation from reaching the earth. When scientists first observed the hole in the ozone layer in the 80s, the world went on high alert, concerned about what would happen if the hole grew in size.
The cause of the hole was determined to be a variety of chemicals commonly found in refrigerators, hairsprays, and fire extinguishers – chlorofluorocarbons, methyl bromide, and hydrochlorofluorocarbons, to be specific (Sciencing).
This inspired an international effort to curb those chemicals and repair the hole. The Montreal Protocol was finalized in 1987 as a global agreement to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances. It was the first treaty to receive universal ratification by all countries in the world (U.S. Dept. of State).
And it worked.
The latest Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion completed in 2018, demonstrates that parts of the ozone layer have recovered at a rate of 1-3% per decade since 2000. At projected rates, Northern Hemisphere and mid-latitude ozone will heal completely by the 2030s. The Southern Hemisphere will follow in the 2050s and Polar Regions by 2060 (UN).
This is exciting, not just for the ozone layer, but what this can mean for climate change efforts.
The hole in the ozone layer and global warming are unrelated. Ozone damage was caused by chlorofluorocarbons and other industrial chemicals, climate change and global warming are predominantly caused by a combination of carbon emissions, methane, nitrous oxide, and other factors that contribute to the greenhouse effect (NASA). Both crises exist relatively independent of one another.
However, chlorofluorocarbons – an ozone-damaging chemical – are considered a greenhouse gas and a contributing factor to climate change (NASA). Their effect is limited thanks to the Montreal Protocol. Additionally, ozone layer protection efforts have also contributed to the fight against climate change by averting an estimated 135 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, from 1990 to 2010 (UN). Ozone repair efforts have a stretch beyond its original implications.
Global warming is currently a polarizing issue, but the Montreal Protocol demonstrates that we do, across nations, have the capacity to listen to scientific warnings, create an action plan, agree, follow through, and heal the damage we have created.
Until we reach international agreement, private organizations are making their own environmental efforts: Dasani is reducing its plastic production and turning towards aluminum solutions. Disney has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions with a long-term goal of attaining a zero state of net greenhouse gas emissions and waste, while conserving water resources. And Enevo utilizes its dynamic routing technology to run trash trucks as efficiently as possible, driving the fewest number of miles while avoiding dumpster overflow.
This World Ozone Day, rejoice in the healing and the promise of what it can mean for further environmental action. We’ve done it before and we can do it again.