The fight against rising greenhouse gas emissions and climate change may seem insurmountable at times, but it’s worth remembering we have been here before with other environmental issues and governments have successfully moved to make positive change. According to the UN, that seems to be the case for what was once described as one of the worst environmental crises of the time: ozone layer depletion.
In the 1970s scientists noticed the ozone layer was deteriorating. The ozone layer is a part of the stratosphere consisting of protective gases that absorb most of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, making this a significant and worrying discovery. Without the ozone layer, too many of these ultraviolet rays would reach the Earth’s surface, affecting ecosystems and food chains as well as human health.
The deterioration of the ozone layer was largely attributed to chemicals introduced to the atmosphere as a result of human behaviour, namely chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) commonly used as solvents and refrigerants. These chemicals would interact with the ozone molecules in the stratosphere, reducing those molecules’ ability to absorb UV rays.
In response, the international community came together to declare ozone depletion an environmental crisis and public health concern and began to work on a collaborative response. By 1987, governments around the world had agreed to the terms of the Montreal Protocol, a treaty that would phase out production of substances like CFCs that are responsible for ozone depletion.
That international cooperation can now be declared an overwhelming success, with the UN stating that if current policies remain in place, the ozone layer should be almost fully recovered across most of the world by 2040 (excepting the polar regions, which will likely take around two decades longer). Beyond its positive impact on the ozone crisis, the Montreal Protocol also shows the potential for successful international cooperation on environmental issues more generally, something we should all take note of in terms of climate change.
“Ozone action sets a precedent for climate action,” Professor Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, said in a statement.
“Our success in phasing out ozone-eating chemicals shows us what can and must be done – as a matter of urgency – to transition away from fossil fuels, reduce greenhouse gases and so limit temperature increase.”
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