Ozone Layer Is Healing

The ozone layer should be restored to its 1980 condition by 2066 according to scientists.

Human agency may be restoring some atmospheric equilibrium, according to a study of the earth’s ozone layer, the stratospheric band that protects earth from deadly ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

“The ozone layer is on track to fully recover in our lifetime,” confirms the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a co-party to the UN-backed quadrennial Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, saving the planet’s at-risk ozone layer was a cause célèbre. Things climaxed in 1987 with the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (MOP), an international treaty banning nearly 100 man-made chemicals—including aerosols, refrigerants and other products containing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)—that were eroding the invisible UV shield.

Today, the “ozone hole” is closing, and the layer should be restored to its 1980 condition by 2066.

“By 2030, two million cases of skin cancer will be avoided,” according to a speech delivered by Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), at the 34th Meeting of the Parties of the MOP last autumn.

When scientists first reported in the 1970s that CFCs were harming the atmosphere, many people were skeptical. But in 1985, scientists from the British Antarctic Survey and follow-up satellite measurements confirmed an ozone hole (a depletion in the molecule’s presence) over Antarctica. Still, what could be done? Ban aerosols—really? Even if you could persuade one country’s people to act, you could never get all the worlds’ nations to agree to such extraordinary steps, it was said at the time.

But the Montreal compact was one of the most successful environmental agreements ever. “What the parties to the protocol have managed to accomplish since 1987 is … an inspiring example of what international cooperation at its best can achieve,” proclaims UNEP.

“Ozone action sets a precedent for climate action,” said WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas to a meeting of the American Meteorological Society in January. “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 gasses and so limit temperature increase.”