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Global climate data around ozone levels and warming paints a good news/worst news picture

planet earth from space in black and white
Image credit: NASA

By as early as 2040 the world’s ozone layer is expected to return to pre-1980 levels, a new report by a panel of experts at the United Nations found.

The ozone layer is responsible for protecting all life on Earth from the sun’s harmful levels of ultraviolet radiation. Its recovery is due to decades of work to get rid of toxic chemicals known as chlorofluorocarbons used in aerosol sprays, solvents, and refrigerants.

The ozone’s recuperation could take longer in other areas where it was more drastically affected by chemicals. In Antarctica it could recover by 2066 and by 2045 in other parts of the Arctic, the report confirms.

While the ozone recovery spells good news for the planet and everyone who likes to live, another report by some of the world’s leading climate scientists and meteorologists at the American Meteorological Society (AMS) sings a less joyous tune.

The sweeping report, which the AMS annually publishes, compiles leading research from the last two years at the nexus of climate change and extreme weather.

Its fundamental conclusion is that climate change is driving unprecedented heatwaves, floods, and droughts in recent years. This can be seen across the globe with the disasters of 2022 and only weeks into 2023, as Europe kicks off the year with a historic winter heatwave and California feels the whiplash of droughts and floods.

Despite the fact that many can see the increase in natural disasters, from frequency to strength, it is often difficult for scientists to pinpoint a natural disaster’s exact ties to climate change. However, as the world heats up and disasters become more extreme, research is achieving the tall task.

In the report, scientists look at both historical observations and model simulations to determine if and by how much climate change may have influenced particular extreme events. The report finds climate change connections to events like the heatwave that left South Korea boiling in 2021 and Cape Town, South Africa’s destructive 2021 wildfire.

The wildfire dealt a hard blow to the city’s historical archives, blazing through its university library, causing $60 billion worth of damage, and burning 600 hectares of wildland and even more urban area. The researchers confirm that the wildfire was 90% more possible in a warmer world.

From the temperature extremes of California and Nevada to some of the wettest weeks the United Kingdom and Northern China have ever experienced, the AMS report blasts a central message from its meteorological speakers: "Extreme heat events are more extreme than ever," Stephanie Herring, one of the authors of the report and a scientist at NOAA told NPR.

These events, specifically this level of heatwaves, were once virtually impossible. Now Herring says “research is showing they're likely to become the new normal in the not-so-distant future."

Still, all is not lost. The report ends with a paper that discusses how climate attribution science can help support adaptation measures like water resources management and decision-making during droughts, from short-term actions to long-term contingency plans.

Understanding drought triggers, their complexities, climate connections, and possible permanent adaptations such as increased conservation pools, can help people make better long-term investments, infrastructure changes, and decisions concerning tools like reservoir management.

The practical applications this research has for everyday people go beyond droughts. It extends to managing the ecological destruction, human casualty, and resource loss caused by disasters like coastal flooding, wildfires, and so on.

Amid the daunting research the AMS reports, the United Nation’s news about the ozone layer is heartening. While the ozone depletion was due to direct human action rather than anthropogenic climate change, its recovery will have a positive impact on the climate, the U.N. says. This is because the greenhouse gases responsible for ozone destruction also contribute to global warming. Phasing them out could help mitigate climate change.

“Ozone action sets a precedent for climate action,” said World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in a statement. “Our success in phasing out ozone-eating chemicals shows us what can and must be done – as a matter of urgency – to transition away from fossil fuels, reduce greenhouse gases and so limit temperature increase.”

Despite the heartening news, the AMS report serves as “a reminder that the risk of extreme events is growing, and they're affecting every corner of the world," Sarah Kapnick, the chief scientist at the NOAA said via NPR.

As the world grows desperate to mitigate the risk of extreme events due to climate change, the U.N. uses the report to strongly caution against stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI).

SAI is the intentional addition of aerosols to the stratosphere to increase sunlight reflection and thus, cool the Earth. The cooling effect is similar to that after explosive volcanic eruptions. Startups like Making Sunsets are already beginning this attempt, despite criticism from the scientific community.

The U.N. experts write that the development of SAI is “fundamentally linked to complex moral, ethical, and governance issues.” While we don’t know everything about its effects, one thing is clear, the U.N. says: a consequence could be stratospheric temperature changes, unintended worsening of weather patterns, and ozone destruction, undoing all of the progress made over decades.


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