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While the hole in the ozone layer was surely one of the 20th century's biggest environmental challenges, the fact that it is on track to recover by the 2060s is surely one of humanity's greatest environmental accomplishments. It's also proof that it’s possible for countries to take dynamic, collaborative action for the good of the planet.
Scientists first reported the existence of a large hole in the upper stratosphere's ozone layer over Antarctica in 1985 – leaving the planet vulnerable to increased levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Just two years later, the multilateral environmental agreement known as the Montreal Protocol was signed to regulate the chemicals responsible for the damage. The protocol has led to the phase-out of dozens of ozone-depleting substances, known as chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs. And according to a UN report presented earlier this month, 99% of those banned substances have been eliminated.
The future is bright for the ozone layer:
- Although the size of the ozone hole can vary significantly from year to year due to meteorological factors, it has steadily been reducing since 2000. The latest report is very encouraging, as the ozone layer is predicted to return to 1980s conditions globally by the 2040s and over Antarctica by the 2060s.
- Another encouraging finding is that the recovery of the ozone layer could avoid an additional 0.5°C increase in global warming by the turn of the next century.
- Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the UN report is that it's possible for countries to quickly come together to radically change their industrial practices. This will be necessary to reduce the planet's dependence on greenhouse gas-producing fossil fuels and limit the damage caused by climate change.