The Montreal protocol. To coldly go

Extending an old treaty that saved the ozone layer could improve cooling technology — and slow global warming

The world’s most lauded environmental treaty could be about to notch up a new success. In 1974 scientists discovered that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCS), chemicals used in refrigeration and as propellants in products such as hairsprays, release chlorine into the stratosphere as they decompose. This depletes the ozone that protects Earth from ultraviolet radiation. CFCS are also powerful greenhouse gases, which absorb solar radiation reflected back from the planet’s surface and so trap heat in the atmosphere.

Initially, the consequences for the ozone layer caused most concern. In 1985 a gaping hole in it was found above Antarctica. Two years later, leaders from around the world acted decisively. They signed a deal, the Montreal protocol, to phase out CFCS. Now ratified by 197 countries, it has prevented the equivalent of more than 135 billion tonnes of carbon-dioxide emissions, and averted complete collapse of the ozone layer by the middle of the century. Instead, by that point the ozone hole may even have closed up. Read more