Good news! The ozone layer may be fully restored within four decades, a UN report reveals

This is "an inspirational example of how the world can come together to address global challenges."
Chris Young
An illustration of ozone layer
An illustration of ozone layer

Yuri_Arcurs/iStock 

The ozone layer may be recovered within a few decades thanks to human intervention, a report from the United Nations reveals.

The report shows that the 1987 international agreement to ban the use of harmful chemicals damaging the ozone layer has been a success, according to the BBC.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol has the desired effect

The ozone layer is a thin part of the Earth's atmosphere that absorbs the majority of the ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. Scientists noticed it began depleting in the 1970s.

They soon discovered that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), commonly found in spray cans, fridges, and air conditioners at the time, were eating away the ozone layer. A massive hole in the layer was discovered over the Antarctic in 1985, leading to the signing of the Montreal Protocol by 46 countries in 1987.

Depletion means the radiation can potentially cause harm to humans on Earth's surface by increasing the risk of skin cancer and other problems.

Despite the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, the Antarctic ozone hole continued to expand until 2000. After that point, however, scientists noticed that it was slowly shrinking. The new UN report now shows that the Montreal Protocol is having the intended consequences — namely, the ozone hole is set for a full recovery in just a few decades.

International collaboration can turn the tide on environmental problems

The report outlines the predictions that the ozone layer will be fully restored in the worst affected area of the Antarctic by 2066. By 2045, depletion is expected to have recovered over the Arctic. Anywhere else affected is likely to recover in only two decades fully.

All of this is, of course, dependent on policies drawn up for the Montreal Protocol being maintained.

The report also suggests that the policies of the Montreal Protocol have had a positive effect in the face of climate change, as the chemicals that were phased out are also greenhouse gases. The report estimates that the phase-out of the chemicals will have prevented up to 1C of warming by the middle of the century compared to a hypothetical 3 percent increase in their use.

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It also warns that the full recovery of the ozone layer isn't guaranteed and that potential plans to spray sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere to re-freeze the poles could have a negative impact.

Ultimately, the ozone layer and climate change are two different problems that must be considered in the face of any wide-ranging environmental plans.

That said, the report is a timely reminder that international collaboration can positively impact the environment and the planet. In a tweet, the UN wrote that this is "an inspirational example of how the world can come together to address global challenges."