Report: Ozone Layer Is Recovering, Stabilized 14 Years Ago

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The United Nations reported that the “hole” in the ozone layer is on the road to recovery about 27 years after countries signed a treaty banning the use of certain aerosols and other chemicals that were blamed for ozone depletion.

The report by the World Meteorological Organization says the ozone layer will recover to 1980 levels by mid-century or so, but warned that recovery hinged on continued reduction in ozone-depleting chemicals.

“International action on the ozone layer is a major environmental success story,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a statement on the ozone report’s release. “This should encourage us to display the same level of urgency and unity to tackle the even greater challenge of climate change.”

The WMO report comes about a week and a half before the UN’s climate summit in New York City later this month. Some leaders from major economies, like China and India, have opted not to attend the summit later this month and few countries have officially committed to backing an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s only binding climate agreement.

The WMO report is full of dire warnings about the link between global warming and the future of the ozone layer. The report’s authors even say that the future of the ozone layer will depend largely greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere — greenhouse gases are blamed for causing the planet to warm.

“The ozone layer and climate change are intricately coupled, and climate change will become increasingly more important to the future of the ozone layer,” the WMO says in its report.

But the WMO report’s timing is odd since the “hole” in ozone layer has been relatively stable since 2000 and reached a record low in 2012. The WMO report notes that the ozone hole “has remained relatively unchanged since 2000, with indications of a small increase in total column ozone in recent years, as expected.”

“In the upper stratosphere there is a clear recent ozone increase, which climate models suggest can be explained by comparable contributions from declining ODS abundances and upper stratospheric cooling caused by carbon dioxide increases,” WMO notes.

The ozone layer acts as a sort of shield against harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. The “hole” in the ozone layer became a hot button political issue during the 1980s and 1990s and served as a sort of precursor to the debate surrounding global warming.

The idea was that man-made aerosols and halocarbons were thinning the ozone over Antarctica and, to a lesser extent, ozone gas layers above the Arctic and mid-latitudes. The finding of thinning ozone was first made in 1985 and the Montreal Protocol was signed in 1987, which phased out chlorofluorocarbons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons.

The “hole” in the ozone layer is not necessarily the result of human activity and occurs naturally. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that ozone “is constantly produced and destroyed in a natural cycle” and that “the overall amount of ozone is essentially stable.” But this balance can be brought out of whack by man-made emissions and remove ozone faster than it can be naturally replaced, says the agency.

There are also reports from last year which indicate that 2012 saw the ozone hole reach a ten-year low. A 2013 report from LiveScience shows that ozone depletion in 2012 was the lowest of any year since 2002.

The “first signs” of ozone layer recovery were reported to have been spotted in 2011, according to an article in Nature. A study by Macquarie University Murry Salby removed “annual fluctuations” in ozone coverage from their data and found an “underlying systematic change in Antarctic ozone levels,” finding that “the levels are now rising,” reported Nature.

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