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An image representing the monthly-averaged total of ozone over Antarctica as of February 2021. "The blue and purple colors are where there is the least ozone," per NASA. Photo NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Emissions of ozone-depleting CFC chemicals are back on the decline, five years on from a major spike, an international team of researchers has found.

Why it matters: The surprising findings indicate "we should see recovery of the ozone layer back to levels that we saw in 1980" later this century, said Luke Western, lead author of one of two papers published on the matter in the journal Nature Wednesday, per the BBC.

A 2000 image of the hole in the Earth's protective ozone layer, which absorbs most of the Sun's potentially harmful ultraviolet rays, over Antarctica. Photo: Newsmakers via Getty Images

For the record: Atmospheric measurements in 2018 detected emissions of the chlorofluorocarbons compound known as CFC-11 coming from factories in Eastern China. The banned pollutant has been used to produce items including foam insulation for refrigerators, air conditioners and buildings.

  • Researchers discovered that from 2014 to 2016, emissions of CFC-11 had risen by over 14,000 tons per year to about 65,000 U.S. tons per year — a 25% a jump above average emissions from 2002 to 2012, with 60% of this rise coming from eastern China.
  • In response to an international outcry over the first known substantive violation of the international environmental treaty known as the Montreal Protocol, China announced renewed enforcement and inspections measures.

What they found: Results of the first paper, titled "A decline in global CFC-11 emissions during 2018−2019," show that emissions of CFC-11 for this period fell globally by about 20,000 tons a year to 57,000 U.S. tons — a drop of 26%.

  • The second paper, "A decline in emissions of CFC-11 and related chemicals from eastern China," found CFC-11 emissions in this region in 2019 fell by 11,000 tons per year, compared with 2014 to 2017 — a 33% drop and a return to pre-2013 levels of 5,500 U.S. tons per year.
  • Current annual emissions now appear to have returned to pre-2012 levels, per a statement from NASA, which detected what it called an "abrupt turnaround."

What they're saying: Regional paper co-author Matthew Rigby, a scientist at Britain's University of Bristol, said in a statement it's "extremely surprising to see the rapid turnaround that was indicated by the data, globally and in eastern Asia."

  • "Even more remarkable was when we calculated the emissions changes and saw that the decline over one or two years was as large as, or perhaps bigger than, the original rise," Rigby added.

Yes, but: British scientist Craig Poku, from the University of Leeds told the New Scientist the emissions decline in eastern China was "promising," but "it's too early to say" whether the trend will continue.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Feb 10, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Sobering science shows world is woefully behind on Paris climate goals

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Two new studies offer a rough one-two punch on climate change — showing the lagging efforts to meet the Paris Agreement's targets and the health effects of the world's current fossil-heavy energy system.

Driving the news: An analysis in the journal Communications Earth & Environment sheds light on what it would take to hold global temperature rise under 2°C above preindustrial levels.

13 hours ago - Health

FDA advisory panel recommends Pfizer boosters for those 65 and older

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Key Biscayne Community Center on Aug. 24, 2021. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday overwhelmingly voted against recommending Pfizer vaccine booster shots for younger Americans, but unanimously recommended approving the third shots for individuals 65 and older, as well as those at high-risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: While the votes are non-binding, and the FDA must still make a final decision, Friday's move pours cold water on the Biden administration's plan to begin administering boosters to most individuals who received the Pfizer vaccine later this month.

14 hours ago - World

France recalls ambassadors from U.S. and Australia over submarine deal

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C), and French ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Etienne. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

France has taken the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after both countries blindsided their French allies with a new military pact and submarine contract, the French Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

The backstory: While sealing an agreement with the U.S. and U.K. to acquire nuclear submarines, Australia ripped up an existing $90 billion submarine deal with France. That led senior French officials to accuse the U.S. of a "stab in the back."