“The unparalleled success of the Montreal Protocol shows that action on climate change is within our grasp” That’s the title of one of the sections in 2010 report of the Millennium Development Goals ( MDG) of the United Nations released in mid 2010. I consider that it is a powerful statement with a high-voltage message which was sent through the network and transmission lines of scores of policy makers from Governments and Industry. It also comes at the time when Climate Change negotiators are waking up from the hibernation after having run yet another marathon, this time on the beach of Cancun.
The MDG report goes on to say that “without the action promoted by the Montreal Protocol and its Vienna Convention, atmospheric levels of ozone-depleting substances would grow 10-fold by 2050. The resulting exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation would likely have led to up to 20 million additional causes of skin cancer and 130 million more cases of eye cataracts; it would also have caused damage to human immune systems, wildlife and agriculture. For much of the world, the time it takes to get sunburned would have been dramatically reduced, due to a 500-per cent increase in DNA-damaging ultraviolet radiation”. What a colossal loss and catastrophe that we avoided! Imagine the spread of deadly diseases and frightening epidemics, huge populations languishing with skin burns and decaying with cancers, vegetation loss and food shortages….and even damage to DNA- the fundamental building block of the life on earth -that might have led us to an unknown destination, even the collapse of human civilization.
The scientists who hypothesized the theory of ozone depletion later observed it to be a reality and later proposed, almost in time, to the policy makers the pathways to address this challenge. It was nothing but a “science success story” that would go down in the history books as a chapter on the ability of science to come out of laboratory of beakers and pipettes making amides and esters. That chapter would illustrate instead, how these individuals made science work in the United Nations conferences to shape public policy and catalyze technology development by interacting with the policy makers. Having sparked the action they also kept a close watch on the status of the Ozone Layer for more than the last two decades.
These scientists are now back again at centre stage with the latest observations on the state of ozone layer. The Scientific Assessment Report of nearly 300 renowned scientists, working under the auspices of UNEP and WMO (World Meteorological Organization) from developing and developed countries has recently completed their findings.
The report categorically indicates that global ozone levels in the Arctic and Antarctic are “no longer increasing but not yet decreasing”. In simple language it means that we have succeeded in stabilizing the Ozone Layer at its peak. What warm and welcome news based on stratospheric observations over the Arctic and Antarctica at the time when we are facing the waves of chilling news on the collapsing of million year old ice shelves due to global warming!
The report is also a superb example of a “balanced assessment”. I recall my school progress “report card’. Even though I used to be top of the class in most of the subjects, the principal of the school used to manage to add in that tiny report card something like: “Needs to maintain this good progress with continued hard work”. My parents later would continuously emphasise that remark to me throughout the academic year. After reading above report by the scientists, I felt that their report came close to the remark in my report card all those years ago.
‘The Ozone Layer will increasingly be influenced by other facts related to the changing climate,” the report adds. Although the return of the Ozone Layer to pre-1980 levels of ozone is expected to be around mid-century, climate change alters the atmospheric temperature and circulation patterns which in turn would affect the Ozone Layer.
The scientists affirm that the Montreal Protocol has succeeded in protecting the ozone layer from much higher levels of depletion. Having given good grades, the report card remarks that: “The ozone layer’s continued recovery depends on future adherence to the provisions of the Montreal Protocol”. This indeed reads like the warning I received from my school to “maintain this good progress with continued hard work” The only difference is that the future progress on Ozone Layer will also now depend on the progress made by other students in the “climate change” class! Maybe the real message is “All students in the class need to work in together to get good grades”!