NERC's ozone research saves thousands of lives and lowers food prices, saving the UK £1.3 billion every year

16 September 2015

NERC's ozone research has spared thousands of lives and led to lower food prices, leading to savings of £1·3 billion every year for the UK, thanks to the early implementation of the Montreal Protocol.

Antarctic ozone hole: 1979 to 2008

Antarctic ozone hole: 1979 to 2008. NASA image courtesy of Goddard Space Flight Center.

This is the conclusion of an independent analysis, which estimates that had NERC-funded scientists at the British Antarctic Survey not reported their discovery of a hole in the ozone layer in 1985, its discovery might have been delayed by five to ten years. By 2030, the cost of this delay would've resulted in 300 more skin cancer cases every year, costing the UK around £550 million a year in today's money. The analysis, by Deloitte, estimates the discovery also led to avoided losses in farm production worth up to £740 million a year.

NERC commissioned the independent organisation to examine the economic benefits of NERC's long-term investment in ozone research to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone.

The findings demonstrate that blue sky research can deliver high returns, given that the British Antarctic Survey has invested over £14 million in ozone monitoring since 1957, and NERC has funded on average £1·5 million on ozone hole research every year since 2004.

The chief executive of NERC, Professor Duncan Wingham, said:

I'm extremely proud of our achievement. This analysis illustrates the value of NERC science to society and to our economy. Early research into ozone depletion was the result of international scientific concern about the effect of chemicals in our atmosphere. NERC is proud to be the funder of a discovery that galvanised the world's governments into taking action to preserve this critical part of the Earth's environment. Our continued investment into UK ozone research - through our funding of the British Antarctic Survey and the stratospheric ozone monitoring team at Cambridge University delivers tangible benefits.

The director of the British Antarctic Survey, Professor Jane Francis, said:

British Antarctic Survey scientists' discovery of the ozone hole in the 80s, following many decades of monitoring, was crucial to the Montreal Protocol, one of the most successful international agreements ever. Our scientists were not only leaders in monitoring stratospheric ozone but also made important breakthroughs in understanding the atmospheric chemistry that led to ozone depletion. The analysis commissioned by NERC suggests that the ozone hole might not have been discovered for up to ten years after 1985, leading to substantial losses to the UK in healthcare and crop damage. Our continued investment in ozone research still provides abundant evidence for policymaking.

The NERC-funded research has led to many other benefits. These include lowering capital and investment costs by reducing the effects of harmful UV radiation on buildings featuring polymer-based materials, increasing the UK's soft power by strengthening its international leadership, and more informed policy decisions which have led to improved public debate on the topic.

Without NERC's investment, scientists say the ozone hole might not have been found for a further five to ten years. This would have delayed the Montreal Protocol, increased the negative effects of UV damage, and lengthened the time for the hole to fully recover. As a result of early adoption of the Montreal Protocol, the hole in the ozone layer now appears to be slowly closing. Scientists predict the ozone layer will be fully restored by 2075, preventing many UV-related health problems worldwide, including skin cancer, sunburn and cataracts.

The UN Environment Programme also states that the number of skin cancer cases globally would have been 14% higher by 2030 without the Montreal Protocol.

Further information

NERC media office
01793 411561
07917 557215


1. NERC-funded scientists were the first to discover a hole in the ozone layer high in the Earth's atmosphere in the mid-1980s. The ozone layer shields the Earth from the worst of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The findings, by NERC-funded scientists at the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Cambridge, played an essential role in showing that man-made gases were damaging the ozone layer, and that this was having serious consequences for human health. Their contributions were vital to establishing the Montreal Protocol in 1987, which led to the rapid, global phase-out of ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were until then commonly used as refrigerants and solvents. The Protocol is widely regarded as one of the most successful international agreements ever.

2. NERC recognised the exceptional benefit, both to the UK and internationally, of the key scientists' work in its inaugural impact awards in January 2015. These helped mark NERC's 50th anniversary. The international award was won by Professor John Pyle, Dr Neil Harris and colleagues at the University of Cambridge and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science for their role in the discovery of a hole in the ozone layer.

3. Duncan Wingham is available for interview. Please contact Tamera Jones in the NERC media office to arrange.