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Global Cooperation through the Montreal Protocol is Contributing to a Sustainable Future

By Loyola University on Mon, 06/24/2019 - 09:46

 (NEW ORLEANS) – JUNE 24, 2019 A professor of environmental biology at Loyola University New Orleans is the lead author on a paper that analyzes how the Montreal Protocol is helping countries curb rapid climate change and avoid catastrophic ozone depletion, making possible a more sustainable future.

Paul W. Barnes’ paper “Ozone depletion, ultraviolet radiation, climate change and prospects for a sustainable future” was published online today by the journal Nature Sustainability.  Barnes is Professor and J.H. Mullaly Chair in Environmental Biology at Loyola in New Orleans.

The Montreal Protocol is the first multinational environmental agreement to be ratified by all 197 countries of the United Nations.  It is a landmark agreement designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances.

“It is difficult to overstate how critical the Montreal Protocol is to a more sustainable future for all of us,” says Barnes.  “We know that stratospheric ozone depletion, which results in increased solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation levels, potentially increases the risks for human health all over the globe while also detrimentally affecting aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. 

Without the Montreal Protocol, UV radiation levels would be more than twice what the World Health Organization considers extreme, and close to four times more extreme in the Topics. UV levels are measured by the UV Index, which is a metric of sunburn potential often mentioned in weather forecasts

Additionally, by reducing the substances that deplete the ozone layer, which also act as greenhouse gases, the Montreal Protocol has done more to curb rapid climate change than any other human action to date, says Barnes. 

Ozone depletion is currently altering the climate in some areas of the Southern Hemisphere and these changes are affecting many ecosystems.  Some animal populations are benefiting, such as penguins and elephant seals in the Southern Hemisphere, while corals and kelp are diminishing in the southernmost regions of the world’s ocean.  Similar positive and negative changes are appearing in the intensity of precipitation, drought and wildfire.

One concern Barnes and his co-authors voice is “If in the future we see non-compliance by some countries, the beneficial results of the Montreal Protocol could be reversed.”  But in the interim, says Barnes, “The Montreal Protocol is proof of how international cooperation can address, alleviate, and in certain cases, eliminate, some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems.”

Also contributing to the paper are Drs. Craig Williamson (Miami University, Oxford, OH), Robyn Lucas (The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia), Sharon Robinson (University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia), Sasha Madronich (National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO), Nigel Paul (Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK), and other members of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Environmental Effects Assessment Panel (EEAP).