The recovery of the ozone hole is a remarkable environmental achievement that has been made possible through international cooperation. The fact that the ozone hole is shrinking provides cause for optimism, particularly as it was human activity that initially caused it to form. Now, it is also human action that has brought about a significant improvement in this situation.

What is the ozone layer and how does it affect the climate on Earth?

The so-called “ozone layer” is located in the upper parts of the Earth’s atmosphere. Without it, life on Earth wouldn’t be possible. This is because the ozone layer protects living organisms from the deadly radiation that the sun sends our way. Organisms, including humans, that are exposed to ultraviolet radiation – which accumulates in the area where the ozone hole forms – are at risk of many diseases, including cancer. The absence or weakening of the ozone layer can lead to a significant decrease in the productivity of farmland. Without this fragile protective layer, protein-based life could not have emerged on Earth or survived, as the Sun not only provides life-giving energy, but also emits lethal radiation that is inhibited by the ozone layer, which prevents ultraviolet rays from entering.

The crisis has been caused by humans and resolved by humans

The dangerous change – the expansion of the ozone hole – was first officially observed in 1985. We owe this warning to the British scientists who were exploring Antarctica. The ozone layer started to diminish at that time due to the release of numerous human-made gases into the atmosphere, which had a destructive impact on the protective ozone layer. Although humans were responsible for this, they were also able to correct this mistake (which may have been unintentional).

We responded effectively to the threat. In 1987, nearly all the countries in the world recognized the threat and took action by signing the Montreal Protocol. This special document placed a responsibility on particular states to halt the emission of chemicals that were damaging the ozone layer. By working together in solidarity, we were able to bring the ozone layer back to a state of healing, much like a wound that has been treated, and scientists predict that full recovery will occur in the next four decades.

Today, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, can rightfully claim that the successful resolution of this global threat is “the best example that the world can achieve a lot if it acts together”. However, this success raises important questions: if we have been able to repair the ozone layer, will we be able to employ the same level of effectiveness to halt climate change, reduce emissions, protect endangered species, and shift towards renewable energy sources? Because today we can open a bottle of champagne and say goodbye to the ozone hole! This fills us with optimism.

More scientific data on the recovery of the ozone layer

The protocol signed in Montreal by almost all countries was closely monitored and enforced, enabling humanity to almost completely eliminate substances that were harming the ozone layer. The positive effects of this global collaboration cannot be overstated.

The ozone layer is a protective shield around the Earth located in the stratosphere. Without it, life as we know it would be impossible. It provides an effective shield against ultraviolet radiation that is harmful to living organisms. The Sun is often compared to a giant nuclear reactor: it generates the energy necessary for life to thrive, but, on the other hand, it also produces radiation that protein-based life can’t tolerate.

The extreme year is 1980 – we aim to return the ozone layer to its state from that time. The areas covered by a “healthy” ozone layer, as well as its density, have been gradually increasing since around the year 2000, and they are expected to stabilise at the desired level in about 40 years.

Can we be optimistic about the environment?

It is fair to say that humanity has successfully tackled one of its biggest existential challenges. This begs the question: if we could repair the ozone layer through joint effort, could we also achieve great outcomes in other environmental areas by working together? Governments, societies, and individuals should collaborate to mitigate the effects of climate change, as no one can escape its consequences. The success in preserving the ozone layer serves as a powerful motivation and a tangible proof that with determination and cooperation, we can reverse our past mistakes.

Maciej Skomorowski