Recovery of the Ozone Layer!
The ozone layer, the Earth’s protective shield that absorbs most of the Sun’s cancer-causing UV radiation, has been diminishing for decades. We can all remember the horror stories about how it will only be so long before it dissipates completely.
But a new report from the WMO and UNEP (World Meteorological Organisation and United Nations Environment Programme) suggests that after years of depletion, the ozone layer is finally starting to repair itself and get thicker. On top of this, the report also indicates that in around ten years, the ozone hole that appears above Antarctica every year between August and December will also start to shrink as it has finally stopped growing.
“For the first time in this report we see indications of a small increase in total ozone,” said Geir Braathen, Senior Scientific Officer for WMO. “The development you saw during the 1990s that the ozone hole got bigger from year to year, that development has stopped, so it has levelled off.” He pointed out that this means that although recovery of the ozone layer is certainly on the horizon, it is in the very early stages.
It is thought that this recovery could be entirely due to a government act from 1987 called the Montreal Protocol, which either banned or phased out the use of man-made CFC gases (chlorofluorocarbons), most prevalently used in spray cans and refrigerators and thought to be destroying the ozone.
“International action on the ozone layer is a major environmental success story,” explained Michel Jarraud, WMO Secretary-General. He said that that success should be enough encouragement to apply the same sense of urgency to the bigger problem of climate change.
And tackling climate change really is a greater challenge. Reducing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) – thought to be one of the leading causes of climate change, but also central to so many features of human life – would take a lot more work than simply replacing and reducing some harmful chemicals.
According to the UNEP, the Montreal Protocol has and will prevent around two million skin cancer cases per year by 2030, while also preventing potential damage to agriculture and wildlife, as well as peoples’ eyes and immune systems.
And if the remaining ozone-depleting substances are destroyed, such as those stored in old fire extinguishers and refrigerators, the progress of the ozone layer reparation could be improved by more than a decade.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, who is also Under-Secretary General for the UN, explained that there are enough positive indications to suggest that the ozone layer could be recovered towards the middle of this century but that there are still huge challenges to face. “The success of the Montreal Protocol should encourage further action not only on the protection and recovery of the ozone layer,” he concluded, “but also on the climate.”