How the Montreal Protocol Spared the World a Climate Catastrophe


In 1987 the nations of the world gathered in Montreal to reach a plan on salvaging the ozone layer.  Little was it known that the Montreal Protocol also averted 2.5 degrees Celsius of warming.

The 1987 agreement limited the use of chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals commonly used in aerosol sprays, refrigerators, and air conditioners, which were shown to be tearing a hole in the ozone layer that shields the Earth from most of the Sun’s ultraviolet rays. By thinning the ozone layer, these chemicals would have allowed high levels of ultraviolet radiation to reach the planet’s surface, damaging plants and inhibiting their ability to soak up carbon dioxide, leading to further warming. These chemicals are also powerful heat-trapping gases, and would have fueled additional warming.

“Thankfully, this is now a scenario that is science fiction,” Paul Young, a climate scientist at Lancaster University in the UK and lead author of the study, told CNN. “But as you can imagine, the consequences would have been absolutely dire.”

Without the Montreal Protocol, the ozone layer would have collapsed, the study found. As a result, much of Europe, the United States, and central Asia would have seen UV levels higher than are currently seen in the tropics. The resulting damage to vegetation would have resulted in 580 billion fewer metric tons of carbon being stored in forests and soil. The findings were published in the journal Nature.

At 1 degree Celsius we're already reeling from climate breakdown impacts - heatwaves, wildfires, drought, and torrential flash flooding. Another 2.5 C atop the heating we've already caused would have been a game changer, or game ender.


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