This week marks the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol, which reduced or eliminated the use of chemicals that led to ozone depletion. As a result, the ozone layer is now on track to recover in 50 years, an impressive feat considering the size of the hole in the ozone layer. The Protocol has been ratified by 197 countries—the only treaty to have achieved universal ratification. Looking at the history and results of the treaty may provide a glimmer of hope for climate advocates.
The treaty came about after a hole in the ozone layer was discovered in 1984. Remarkably, global action to curb the use of ozone depleting chemicals came about just three years later. As stated by one of the scientists that discovered the ozone hole:
People were scared and thought this could be a real disaster that could kill us, give us cancer. But the significant ozone loss was not happening in areas where people were living. It was occurring mostly over Antarctica. There are penguins there, but no human beings, and it happens for only two months a year. Regardless, it had a huge impact on people.
As we struggle to pass meaningful climate legislation domestically, let alone internationally, this observation is remarkable. Even though the immediate risk was primarily to a remote area, leaders around the world were motivated to take action. Not to mention that the Protocol required eliminating the use of several popularly used chemicals, like CFCs that were used in everything from aerosol cans to air conditioning units.
Banning these chemicals required a significant industry shift. Yet, instead of going bankrupt, industry made the changes and now, several years down the road, we can see the benefits. Globally, taking action to stop ozone depletion is estimated to have prevented 20 million cases of cancer and 130 million additional cases of eye cataracts. In the U.S. alone, direct health savings are estimated at $4.2 trillion.
It is hard to overstate just how damaging climate change will be if immediate action is not taken. On just the surface, we’ve detailed how climate change will cause state economies will suffer, impose substantial hardship from extreme weather and drought, increase the likelihood of global conflict due to water shortages, and threaten the existence of entire nations. Climate change will do far more than threaten the Artic, which it is already doing. Maybe the success of the Montreal Protocol will convince leaders that not only can something be done to stop climate change, but also that acting won’t result in bankrupting the private sector.