Next week, the twelfth Meeting Of The Parties To "The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer" will take place in Burkina Faso to negotiate multi-governmental cooperation in the protection of the earth's ozone layer. Given the recent collapse of the United Nations climate talks in the Hague, at which the US refused to agree to reduce global warming through stricter pollution controls (arguing instead for getting credit for carbon "sinks"), the importance of the upcoming meeting cannot be underestimated. The ozone layer exists in the stratosphere, a thin band of atmosphere 10-50km above the earth's surface. This thin band absorbs (and thereby protects the earth's surface from) harmful ultra-violet wavelengths (UV-B) that are produced in sunlight. The widespread use of human-produced chemicals that are ozone-depleting (such as chlorofluorocarbons -- used in air conditioning, or halocarbons -- used in fire extinguishers) has led to a reduction in stratospheric ozone, resulting in the massive ozone hole above Antarctica and South America. Although many of the most damaging ozone-depleting substances are being phased out of production, the time-lag from the release of these long-lasting chemicals to their damaging effect in the atmosphere means that the expected stratospheric peak of these chemicals will not occur until the end of this decade. In addition, this damaging process is exacerbated by global climate change, and requires political will to enforce cleaner air. Meanwhile, scientists have documented the first signs of a growing ozone hole over the Arctic -- with staggering implications for human, animal, and plant health. This week's In The News highlights the upcoming pivotal meeting in West Africa and introduces readers to some excellent resources on the ozone layer.
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