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CFC ban helped avoid scorched earth scenario

A new study from Lancaster University in the UK has revealed that continued deterioration of the Earth’s ozone layer could have had catastrophic effects on our planet, exacerbating global warming and impacting all plants and animals. The work also reinforces the importance and success of the Montreal Protocol, which phased out ozone-destroying CFCs with the assistance of the HVAC&R industry worldwide.

When we think of the impact of a hole in the ozone layer, it’s often in terms of the greater risk of skin cancer for humans. But the research paper, based on detailed modelling, depicts a “world avoided” that would have impacted all life on the planet.

The international team of scientists from the UK, USA and New Zealand found that if ozone-destroying chemicals such as CFCs had been left unchecked, the ozone layer would have collapsed by the 2040s, contributing to an additional 2.5°C rise in global air temperatures by the end of the century.

Lead author from Lancaster University, Dr Paul Young, says: “Our new modelling tools have allowed us to investigate the scorched Earth that could have resulted without the Montreal Protocol’s ban on ozone-depleting substances.

“A world where these chemicals increased and continued to strip away at our protective ozone layer would have been catastrophic for human health, but also for vegetation. The increased UV would have massively stunted the ability of plants to soak up carbon from the atmosphere, meaning higher CO2 levels and more global warming.

“With our research, we can see that the Montreal Protocol’s successes extend beyond protecting humanity from increased UV, to protecting the ability of plants and trees to absorb CO2. Although we can hope that we never would have reached the catastrophic world as we simulated, it does remind us of the importance of continuing to protect the ozone layer. Entirely conceivable threats to it still exist, such as from unregulated use of CFCs.”

The Montreal Protocol is an international agreement made in 1987. It was designed to stop the production and import of ozone-depleting substances and reduce their concentration in the atmosphere to help protect the Earth’s ozone layer. The HVAC&R sector has been crucial in ensuring its success by adopting new technologies – in particular moving from CFCs to other refrigerants.

Australia played a key role in negotiating the Montreal Protocol. It was one of the first to sign in 1988, ratifying the Protocol by passing it through parliament less than a year later.

To read more about the Lancaster University study, click here.

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