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Meteorologists mark 30 years of successful ozone treaty

Meteorologists and environmentalists have marked the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol in September and launched a campaign to raise awareness of its success.

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which was the first treaty in the history of the United Nations to achieve universal ratification, was created in 1987 to save the Earth’s ozone layer after scientists discovered that substances such as chlorofluorocabons (CFCs) were depleting it. As a consequence of the protocol, a near 99% phase-out of ozone-destroying substances, once found in products such as refrigerants and aerosols, was achieved.

The ozone layer, which protects life on Earth from harmful levels of ultraviolet rays, is now on track to return to 1980 benchmark levels by the middle of this century in mid-latitudes and the Arctic, and slightly later in the Antarctic.

Ozone-depleting substances are also powerful greenhouse gases and their elimination has been beneficial to the climate, averting more than 135 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions, says the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). It is expected that this will avert up to 0.5°C warming by the end of the century—while continuing to protect the ozone layer.

Ozone monitoring

Preliminary observations of the annual ozone hole which develops over the Antarctic indicate that it will be in line with what has been observed in recent years.

The UN Environment Programme and its Ozone Secretariat, supported by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and its Global Atmosphere Watch network, monitor and report on the state of the ozone layer. The Ozone Secretariat estimates that up to 2,000,000 cases of skin cancer will have been prevented globally each year by 2030.

“The World Meteorological Organization joins the rest of the international community in celebrating the anniversary of this agreement which has proved to be a great win-win for both the ozone layer and for our climate,” said WMO senior ozone scientist Geir Braathen.

Hydrofluorocarbons

The Montreal Protocol phase-out of CFCs led to the increased use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in air conditioning and refrigeration, which do not harm the ozone layer but are potent greenhouse gases.

In October 2016 parties to the Montreal Protocol agreed on the Kigali Amendment, which will reduce the production and consumption of global warming-contributing HFCs. Countries that ratify the Kigali Amendment commit to cutting the production and consumption of HFCs by more than 80% during the next 30 years. Most developed countries will start reducing HFCs as early as 2019.

"The ozone story continues to inspire. It shows what can be achieved if we listen to the science, put aside our differences and act on behalf of our planet," said Tina Birmpili, head of the Ozone Secretariat. "Life on earth as we know it today is because 30 years ago, nations across the globe came together and showed that everything is possible. Our message today is that this must not just be a one-off."

As part of the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol, the Ozone Secretariat has also launched the ‘Ozone Heroes’ campaign to increase public recognition of the success and impact of the protocol, and to generate further support for the protocol and its new mandate to phase down climate-warming hydrofluorocarbons under the Kigali Amendment.

Antarctic survey

It was meteorologists and scientists at the Natural Environment Research Council’s

(NERC) British Antarctic Survey (BAS) who provided an early warning of the dangerous thinning of the ozone layer worldwide in the 1980s.

NERC-funded atmospheric research also played a leading role in demonstrating the effect of man-made gases on the ozone layer, and the consequences for human health, which played a key part in the strengthening of the Montreal Protocol.

Jonathan Shanklin, one of the discovery team at BAS, said, “The Montreal Protocol is a remarkable agreement which we are seeing the effects of now. Signs of recovery of the ozone hole are becoming evident, which will have huge benefits to society with fewer cases of UV-related problems. It demonstrates that when policy and science work together it can result in effective action.”

Carolyn Graves, a meteorologist at BAS who takes daily ozone measurements in the Antarctic summer at the Halley Research Station, said, “I feel extremely privileged to be involved in monitoring the ozone hole, and it's especially rewarding to be observing its recovery as a result of a science policy success story.”

- September 2017

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