Friday, August 18, 2017
After reading last week about ANOTHER plastic continent floating in the Pacific, it's hard to believe that it's possible to turn anything around. But it is.
In the 1970s and 80s the depletion of the ozone layer was a huge story. It showed up everywhere from classrooms to popular media. People were genuinely scared, and the world decided to do something about it.
In 1989, amidst mounting scientific evidence, dozens of nations joined forces to sign a treaty aimed at halting the expansion of a massive hole in Earth's ozone layer.
Did it make a difference?
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Nearly thirty years after dozens of nations joined forces to sign a treaty aimed at halting the expansion of a hole in Earth's ozone layer, the Montreal Protocol has done just that. But it has also done something its architects never intended. It has become one of America's most effective tools in the fight against climate change.
That's the surprising conclusion of a study published this week in Geophysical Research Letters, which takes a fresh look at the consequences of the nearly 30-year-old treaty that phased out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and later, hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), after scientists determined that these compounds were destroying ozone in Earth's stratosphere. Since CFCs and HCFCs are also potent greenhouse gases, phasing them out has had a major impact on US climate pollution: Between 2008 and 2014, the Montreal Protocol led to greenhouse gas reductions with roughly half the benefit of all other climate regulations enacted by the EPA.
Under the Montreal Protocol, which was enforced by the EPA's Clean Air Act, the US saw a near-complete phaseout of CFCs beginning in 1996, and a 95 percent decline in HCFCs since 1998. Pulling data from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration's atmospheric monitoring network, Lei Hu from the University of Colorado Boulder and her colleagues demonstrated that from 2008 to 2014, the elimination of these substances had the equivalent climate impact of reducing CO2 emissions by 170 million tons per year. Projecting forward, the researchers found that the continued implementation of the Montreal Protocol and its amendments could shave some 500 million tons of CO2 off our carbon footprint annually by 2025, compared with 2005 emissions levels.
For context, 500 million tons of CO2 is roughly a quarter of what we need to cut to meet our Paris Climate Agreement target, of reducing emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025. It's also close to the annual US emissions from the entire agriculture sector.