Ozone layer finally healing: battle won in a losing war?

A month after the IPCC report was released, warning of the dire impact of crossing the 1.5 degree warming mark, recovery of the Ozone layer is not a victory to be celebrated.

  • Effects of the 1987 Montreal Protocol are finally visible as Ozone layer is expected to be fully restored by 2060
  • Recovery has worsened the impact of man-made climate change over the Antarctic

Damage caused by aerosols and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used in coolants to the Ozone layer is finally on the wane, leading to its speedy alleviation, a United Nations report said.

The report found that the ozone layer that blankets the Northern Hemisphere would be fully recovered by 2030. The situation in the Southern Hemisphere is worse off- with the gaping hole over the Antarctic- but at this rate of recovery, the hole should be sealed by 2060.

The Ozone layer protects against skin and eye damages, and its depletion may result in direct contact with ultraviolet rays, causing skin cancer. Its depletion took off in 1970s with increased release of CFCs into the atmosphere. To tackle this, the Montreal Protocol was signed in 1987, in order to put CFCs out of used, and curb the use of aerosols.

After hitting its worst in the 1990s, the layer began to steadily heal at the rate of 1-3 percent every decade. Over the South Pole, the Ozone hole is now 16 percent smaller than when it was at its worst at 29.6 million square kilometers wide in 2006.

If nothing had been done, the world would have lose 65 percent of its ozone cover by 2065.

Room for Caution

University of Colorado’s Brian Toon, however, is cautious to celebrate the achievement so soon. “We are only at a point where recovery may have started,” Toon said, pointing to some ozone measurements that haven’t increased yet.

Moreover, a new technology discovered that certain banned CFCs were being emitted in East Asia.

Ross Salawitch, a University of Maryland atmospheric scientist who co-authored the report, said that the healing of the Ozone layer has fast-tracked warming in the Antarctic. Scientists are yet to understand to what extent man-made climate change will be worsened over the region in lieu of the healing Ozone layer.

Infographic by Chitwan Kaur

The Bigger Challenge

On October 8 this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C (SR15), which glossed over the devastating effects of global warming even by another half degree.

The world has already become 1 percent warmer since the 19th century. The report examined the consequences of jumping up by another 1 degree as compared to another half degree.

It states that 1.5 degrees is the best-case scenario. However, rapid and drastic changes have to be made in government policy and society in order to stay at 1.5 degrees, otherwise 2 degrees seems more likely. With another 1 degree rise in temperature, permafrost may be lost during the summer months, 411 million people may face water scarcity, and most coral reefs could disappear.

The report came as a blaring wake-up call, and was followed by news of the Ozone layer healing only a month later. The question, however, remains- will the remaining carbon budget spent judiciously so as not to cross the 1.5 degree mark?

This crisis comes despite the Kyoto Protocol which committed to controlling greenhouse gas emissions.

The implementation of these measures involves complicated political and diplomatic decisions between the first world and the third.  These must be taken to ration out the carbon budget in such a manner that developing countries get equal opportunity for growth. Such a move, although the need of the hour, may gravely affect every single citizen of these countries.

Championing Ozone depletion is merely a shout into the void of overall environmental degradation.

By Chitwan Kaur with inputs from AP