Quantcast

Saving the Ozone Layer 30 Years Ago Slowed Global Warming. Can Similar Cooperation Now Solve the Climate Crisis?

Climate
A NASA image showing the ozone hole at its maximum extent for 2015. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The Montreal Protocol, a 1987 international treaty prohibiting the production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to save the ozone layer, was the first successful multilateral agreement to successfully slow the rate of global warming, according to new research. Now, experts argue that similar measures may lend hope to the climate crisis.


"By mass CFCs are thousands of times more potent a greenhouse gas compared to CO2, so the Montreal Protocol not only saved the ozone layer but it also mitigated a substantial fraction of global warming," said lead author of the paper Rishav Goyal.

Research published in the journal Environmental Research Letters suggests that in addition to slowing today's global temperatures, the Montreal Protocol also kept the planet an average of 1 degree Celsius – and as much as 4 degrees Celsius in the Arctic – cooler than it would have been otherwise. The protocol was not only a "major success" in repairing the stratospheric ozone hole, but the researchers note that it has reduced global warming by as much as a quarter and has helped to substantially mitigate anthropogenic climate change both today and into the future.

"Remarkably, the Protocol has had a far greater impact on global warming than the Kyoto Agreement, which was specifically designed to reduce greenhouse gases. Action taken as part of the Kyoto Agreement will only reduce temperatures by 0.12°C by the middle of the century – compared to a full 1°C of mitigation from the Montreal Protocol."

The stratospheric layer in the ozone absorbs harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun and faced an emergency in the 1980s when researchers discovered CFCs were causing a "hole" that was inhibiting its effects, according to NOAA. The U.S. Department of State reports that international efforts to reduce the impacts of CFCs and protect the ozone layer are expected to result in the avoidance of more than 280 million cases of skin cancer, 1.6 million skin cancer deaths, and more than 45 million cases of cataracts in the nation alone by the end of the century.

"Montreal sorted out CFCs, the next big target has to be zeroing out our emissions of carbon dioxide," said study co-author Matthew England of the University of New South Wales. An editorial written by The New York Times agrees, arguing that such a solution is possible if the world responds "with similar resolve" in dealing with greenhouse gas emissions largely responsible for climatic changes the world is seeing, but the issue is not quite as tangible as other environmental threats like clean water, smog and the ozone hole.

"Climate change, by contrast, has for a long time been seen as remote, something for future generations to worry about, and in polls has appeared far down on the list of voters' concerns," writes the publication. "In addition, there were no relatively expeditious technological fixes for carbon emissions, as there were for fluorocarbons, and as there were for the pollutants addressed in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments …"

International movements like those led by teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg are bringing awareness to the current climatic state while governing bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and World Health Organization are building policies to address health, wellness and infrastructure concerns associated with a changing planet.

The study authors write that the success of the Montreal Protocol demonstrates that international treaties to limit greenhouse gas emissions not only work, but they can impact climate in "very favorable ways" and help to "avoid dangerous levels of climate change."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A new report spotlights a U.N. estimate that at least 275 million people rely on healthy coral reefs. A sea turtle near the Heron Island in the Great Barrier Reef is seen above. THE OCEAN AGENCY / XL CATLIN SEAVIEW SURVEY

By Jessica Corbett

In a new report about how the world's coral reefs face "the combined threats of climate change, pollution, and overfishing" — endangering the future of marine biodiversity — a London-based nonprofit calls for greater global efforts to end the climate crisis and ensure the survival of these vital underwater ecosystems.

Read More
Half of the extracted resources used were sand, clay, gravel and cement, seen above, for building, along with the other minerals that produce fertilizer. Cavan Images / Cavan / Getty Images

The world is using up more and more resources and global recycling is falling. That's the grim takeaway from a new report by the Circle Economy think tank, which found that the world used up more than 110 billion tons, or 100.6 billion metric tons, of natural resources, as Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

Read More
Sponsored

By Gero Rueter

Heating with coal, oil and natural gas accounts for around a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. But that's something we can change, says Wolfgang Feist, founder of the Passive House Institute in the western German city of Darmstadt.

Read More
Researchers estimate that 142,000 people died due to drug use in 2016. Markus Spiske / Unsplash

By George Citroner

  • Recent research finds that official government figures may be underestimating drug deaths by half.
  • Researchers estimate that 142,000 people died due to drug use in 2016.
  • Drug use decreases life expectancy after age 15 by 1.4 years for men and by just under 1 year for women, on average.

Government records may be severely underreporting how many Americans die from drug use, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown University.

Read More
Water coolers in front of shut-off water fountains at Center School in Stow, MA on Sept. 4, 2019 after elevated levels of PFAS were found in the water. David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

In a new nationwide assessment of drinking water systems, the Environmental Working Group found that toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS are far more prevalent than previously thought.

Read More