The ozone layer is safe
Quote:LEADING scientists say the ozone layer is starting to repair itself and will eventually give us much greater protection from skin cancer.
They say that phasing out almost 100 substances once used in such products as refrigerators and aerosols has stopped the layer from further depletion.
Ozone in the stratosphere is important because it absorbs most of the sun’s dangerous ultraviolet radiation, which can lead to skin cancer and eye damage.
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Although it is not yet increasing again, the ozone layer outside the polar regions is, by the year 2048, expected to recover to the levels it was at 30 years ago.
The United Nations report, Scientific Assessment Of Ozone Depletion 2010, paints a much more optimistic picture than previous assessments and is the first comprehensive update in four years.
It argues that action taken through the Montreal Protocol, which began in 1987 and has introduced the reduction of harmful emissions, has helped to halt the damage.
Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and environmental programme executive director, said: “Without the Protocol, levels of ozone-depleting substances could have increased tenfold by 2050.
“This, in turn, could have led to up to 20 million more cases of skin cancer and 130 million more cases of eye cataracts, not to speak of the damage to human immune systems, wildlife and agriculture.”
News that the protective layer in the earth’s upper atmosphere has stopped thinning was widely welcomed last night.
Len Barrie, head of research at the World Meteorological Organisation, said: “The Montreal Protocol to control ozone depleting substances is working. It has protected us from further ozone depletion over the past decades.
“Global ozone, including ozone in the polar region is no longer decreasing but not yet increasing.”
Craig Bennett, campaigns director for pressure group Friends Of The Earth, said: “If we carry on doing the job that we are doing then we will restore the hole, but there is still along way to go.
“It shows that we can deal with big problems but Governments have to stay firm to the Montreal Protocol.
“There has been a huge time delay from the action being taken and the ozone layer not getting any bigger.
“It shows what is possible if Governments listen to scientists and look at scientific evidence.”
He added: “It’s a lot simpler issue than climate change but we can rise to challenges and should not despair.”
In 2010, reductions of ozone-depleting substances as a result of the Montreal Protocol, were five times larger than the targets of the Kyoto Protocol, the greenhouse emissions reduction treaty, adopted in 1997.
However, despite the good news in yesterday’s report, there was a warning that much was still to be done and complacency had to be avoided.
The scientists who compiled the UN report said one important challenge that still remained was to examine the complex links between ozone and climate change.
Changes in climate are still expected to have an increasing influence on stratospheric ozone in the coming decades, the report said. These changes would come mainly from the emissions of long-lived greenhouse gases, predominantly carbon dioxide, which are caused by human activity.
Ozone provides a natural protective filter against harmful ultra-violet rays from the sun, which can cause sunburn, cataracts and skin cancer as well as damaging vegetation.
First observations of a seasonal ozone hole appearing over the Antarctic occurred in the 1970s.
The alarm was raised in the 1980s after it was found to be worsening under the onslaught of CFC emissions – previously used in air conditioning and cooling units and in aerosol sprays – prompting 196 countries to join the Montreal Protocol.
Although CFCs have been phased out, they accumulated and persist in the atmosphere and the effect of the curbs will take years to filter through.
The ozone hole over the South Pole, which varies in size and is closely monitored when it appears in springtime each year, is likely to persist even longer and may even be aggravated by climate change, the report added.
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