The ozone layer is on track to completely repair itself in our lifetime

The ozone layer is steadily repairing itself following a drastic global reduction in the use of ozone-depleting substances, the UN's environmental agency has found.

The ozone layer is on tract to heal completely during this century, the UN's environmental agency has found.

The ozone layer is on tract to heal completely during this century, the UN's environmental agency has found. Source: NASA

The world's ozone layer is on track to be completely healed by the 2060s, according to modelling by the UN's environmental agency (UNEP).

In the past 19-years, parts of the ozone layer have recovered at a rate of one to three per cent every ten years, UNEP has found. If this continues, the Northern Hemisphere's ozone layer is set to heal completely by the 2030s, the Southern Hemisphere by the 2050s, and the polar regions in the following decade.

"As we rightly focus our energies on tackling climate change, we must be careful not to neglect the ozone layer and stay alert to the threat posed by the illegal use of ozone-depleting gases," UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement on Monday.

"The recent detection of emissions of one such gas, CFC-11, reminds us that we need continued monitoring and reporting systems, and improved regulations and enforcement."

The ozone layer, made up of three types of oxygen atoms, is located approximately 15 kilometres above the earth and helps to protect the planet from ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer, crop damage, eye cataracts and other issues.

But since the late 1970s, the ozone layer had been consistently thinning due to the overuse of chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons, reaching a crisis point in the 1990s when about 10 per cent of the layer had been eroded.

NASA combination images showing areas of low ozone above Antarctica in 2000, left, and 2018, right. (AAP)
Source: AAP

In 1987, UN members signed a treaty - known as the Montreal Protocol - aimed at phasing out ozone-depleting substances and developed replacements. According to the UNEP, the Montreal Protocol has successfully led to the removal of 99 per cent of chlorofluorocarbons, which previously existed in refrigerators, air-conditioners and other consumer products.

"The Montreal Protocol is both an inspirational example of how humanity is capable of cooperating to address a global challenge and a key instrument for tackling today’s climate crisis," Mr Guterres said.

"Under this international treaty, nations have worked for 32 years to slash the use of ozone-depleting chemicals, used largely by the cooling industry. As a result, the ozone layer that shields us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation is healing."

The ozone layer is also instrumental in curbing the effects of climate change, with the barrier stopping approximately 135 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere between 1990 to 2010, UNEP said.

Earlier this year, China came under fire for allegedly releasing large quantities of banned chemical Chlorofluorocarbon-11 (CFC-11) into the atmosphere, in violation of the UN treaty.

Published 17 September 2019 at 8:45am, updated 17 September 2019 at 8:48am
By Maani Truu