Good News for Health: Ozone Recovery Is On Track

By: Lucy Walker, Policy Intern

A UN study has reported that the depleted hole in the ozone layer is on course to recover by 2040. The report, published every four years on the progress of the Montreal Protocol, noted significant recovery of the layer in the upper stratosphere and a reduction in human exposure to harmful UV rays.

The Montreal Protocol was signed in 1987 and was the first treaty to achieve universal ratification by every nation. The multinational agreement set significant limits on chemicals that harm the ozone layer. These substances, called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), contain chlorine that breaks down ozone molecules and inhibits their recovery. Before the Montreal Protocol, CFCs were common in household appliances and aerosols.

The 2016 Kigali Amendment required a phasing-out of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) chemicals, which do not directly deplete ozone but do contribute to global warming and climate change.

The depletion in the ozone layer over the Antarctic was first discovered in 1985 by British scientists. According to the UN report, if current protocols remain in place, recovery over the Antarctic is expected by 2066, by 2045 over the Arctic, and around 2040 for the rest of the world.

Protecting the ozone layer is hugely important in protecting human health. Ozone acts as a shield from radiation and can trap UV light. The two kinds of UV light, UV-A and UV-B are both harmful. UV-B rays can cause sunburns, eye damage, and cancers like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. UV-A light can cause skin cancer, melanoma, and premature aging. The ozone layer can absorb these rays, but its depletion exposes populations to increased radiation levels.

Several scientists and representatives from the UN have noted that the Montreal Protocol serves as a key example of the environmental progress that can be made from multinational cooperation. The successful phasing out of ozone-depleting chemicals also sets a clear example of what can be done globally to transition away from fossil fuels to further limit climate change and protect human health.