September 16th marked the 25th anniversary of the ratification of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, one of the world's greatest environmental protection success stories. The United States played a leading role during its negotiation in 1987 and, today, Americans continue to benefit from its impacts. By phasing out the production of chemicals that threatened the ozone layer, the Montreal Protocol today protects the health of billions of people across the world.
In the 1970s, evidence began to surface that certain products we use every day, from aerosol spray cans to refrigerators, contained chemicals known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that were depleting the Earth’s protective ozone layer and increasing the level of ultraviolet radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. Overexposure to ultraviolet radiation can cause serious health problems, including higher incidence of skin cancer, and negatively impact our environment by damaging crops and food sources.
The United States was instrumental in crafting a solution to this risk. On September 16, 1987, twenty four nations, including the United States, signed the Montreal Protocol. Today, all 197 member nations of the United Nations have followed our lead, making it the most widely ratified international environmental agreement in history.
The Montreal Protocol has been and continues to be a clear and resounding success. The United Nations estimates that global production of ozone-depleting substances has fallen 98% since ratification. As a result, the ozone layer is recovering, and experts project that it will return to its pre-1980 levels as early as 2060.
When the world first grappled with the challenge of a diminishing ozone layer, few substitutes existed for ozone-depleting chemicals and many observers warned that tackling the problem would impose tremendous economic burdens. But global innovation, led by a number of American companies, proved them wrong. An unprecedented research and development effort has led to the rapid, widespread adoption of low-cost alternatives to harmful CFCs. Today, everyday products that once contained CFCs, from spray cans and computers to furniture and packing peanuts, are produced with ozone-friendly materials.
These accomplishments have produced real benefits for Americans, preventing sicknesses and deaths, and saving us money on health care costs. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that every dollar invested in ozone protection provides $20 in health benefits here at home.
The Montreal Protocol has also played a significant role in helping to address climate change. Many ozone-depleting substances are potent greenhouse gases. By dramatically reducing the production of these substances, the Montreal Protocol has so far averted the equivalent of 135 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide worldwide, according to United Nations estimates.
In the 1970s and 1980s, there was widespread concern that the depletion of our ozone layer would have a long-lasting negative impact on our health and communities. Today, thanks to the United States’ leadership on important environmental issues, we are well on our way toward restoring the ozone layer, and its benefits. On the 25th anniversary of this agreement, it is important to recognize that the success of the Montreal Protocol is not only a cause of celebration, but also a model of how we can work together to build healthier, cleaner communities and spur innovation and economic growth.
Gary Guzy is Deputy Director and General Counsel for the White House Council on Environmental Quality