The Inside Story of How the World Closed the Hole in the Ozone Layer

The year is 1985. Ronald Reagan is president. Margaret Thatcher is prime minister of the United Kingdom. Michael Jackson, White Snake and George Michael are dominating the billboard charts. Back to the Future is a smash hit at the box office.

And scientists have just discovered a giant hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica.

Scientists were warning that if left unchecked, this hole in the ozone would grow ever larger, letting through harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun that would wreak havoc on human health. Skin cancer rates would skyrocket, as would cataracts. In cities like Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. going outside for just a short period of time in the summer would be dangerous. Meanwhile, the basic ecology of the world’s oceans could change, as plankton which makes up the bottom of the food chain, would die off.

But in two years time, before even Universal Pictures released the sequel to Back to the Future the international community had come together to create a binding international treaty that would lead to the healing of the ozone layer.

That agreement is known as the Montreal Protocol. It is widely considered the world’s most successful global environmental treaty.

In this special episode of Global Dispatches podcast, produced in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, we bring you the inside story of how the world came together to create an internationally binding treaty to protect the ozone layer — and ultimately human health.

You will hear from scientists who discovered the link between Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and ozone depletion; key diplomats and government leaders who pressed for the international regulation of CFCs in 1987; and academics and civil society leaders who explain why this 31-year-old agreement is as relevant today as it was the day it was signed.

The Montreal Protocol is a success of multilateral cooperation. This podcast episode tells its story.

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Nobel Prize winning chemist Mario Molina

Susan Solomon, atmospheric scientist

David Doniger, National Resources Defense Council

Maria Ivanova, University of Massachusetts, Boston

Melinda Kimble, United Nations Foundation


Archival Audio: 

Ronald Reagan

Lee Thomas, former EPA Administrator

Mustafa Tolba, former Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program

This episode is part of a series of episodes, called “Wins for the World” in which we tell the story of how multilateral cooperation tangibly benefited people and the planet. Subscribe today!