Climate update: it appears that the world’s nations can work as a united front to successfully solve one of the world’s environmental problems. The ozone layer, after many years of continuous concerted efforts from countries and businesses around the world, has actually begun improving.
In the 1970s, scientists first began to realize that the Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer was rapidly depleting. However, it took time to gain international acceptance of the theory and then to enact the international agreements that would help improve the ozone layer. Scientists discovered that chlorofluorocarbons, which are used in refrigerators, spray cans and air conditioners, just to name a few, are the main cause for the depletion of the ozone layer.
The danger in the thinning of the ozone layer revolves around there being a greater amount of harmful UV rays that enter into the atmosphere. Beyond the well known environmental concerns, this in turn puts the population at a greater risk of developing skin cancer. Countries such as Puentas Arenas and Chile, which lie under the existing ozone hole, have already seen spikes in skin cancer within their populations. Luckily, nations from around the world were able to come together.
The Montreal Protocol is arguably the most successful case in which world leaders came together to solve an environmental problem. In the agreement, enacted in 1987, world leaders agreed to phase out CFCs from production. Instead, countries began to use hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs.
Dupont, a company that was one of the major producers of CFCs, actually played a large role in finding substitutes for CFCs. This helped their company grow as they were one of the only producers of HFCs early on.
The switch from CFCs to HFCs made a major impact on the environment. Had nothing been done to begin repairing the ozone, scientists say that there could have been an additional 2 million cases of skin cancer by 2030. Also, switching to HFCs had an unforeseen impact on climate change and global warming.
Both CFCs and HFCs are potent greenhouse gases. However, on the net, swapping CFCs out for HFCs reduced the overall amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So, by enacting the Montreal Protocol and phasing out CFCs, world leaders actually made one of the biggest initiatives to combat climate change in history.
It is important to note the time it takes for international environmental agreements to actually begin to have an impact on the environment. The Montreal Protocol was enacted in 1987 and ozone levels continued to decline into the 1990s. In fact, in 2006, another major hole appeared.
Thus, while the treaty made successful efforts to slow and even stop the decrease of ozone levels, it was not until now, in 2014, that the ozone showed signs of improving. Scientists say that the healing ozone layer should be back to its 1980s levels by 2050. However, there will likely be fluctuations in levels along the way.
For the scientists and legislatures around the world, this case acts as proof that science and policy must find a meeting point to help solve some of the major environmental problems impacting Earth today. This is especially pertinent as hundreds of thousands take to the streets in New York City for what is predicted to be the largest climate action in history. The People’s Climate March on Sunday, September 21 is being held just days before the United Nations Climate Summit convenes in New York City.