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Home » Climate change: The environmental disasters we’ve almost fixed

Climate change: The environmental disasters we’ve almost fixed

Climate change: The environmental disasters we've almost fixed

There are no simple solutions to complex problems like climate change. But there have been times in the past when the world has come together to try to fix an environmental crisis.

How did we deal with acid rain, for example, or the hole in the ozone layer? And are there lessons for tackling the bigger issue of global warming?

1970, '80s and '90s: Acid rain

It's the 1980s, and fish are disappearing in rivers across Scandinavia. Trees in parts of the forests are stripped bare of leaves, and in North America some lakes are so devoid of life their waters turn an eerie translucent blue

The cause: Clouds of sulphur dioxide from coal-burning power plants are travelling long distances in the air and falling back to Earth in the form of acidic rain.

"In the '80s, essentially the message was that this was the largest environmental problem of all time," says Peringe Grennfelt, a Swedish scientist who played a key role in highlighting the dangers of acid rain.

Headlines warning of the threats of acid rain were commonplace. For years there had been obfuscation, denial and diplomatic stand-offs, but once the science was settled beyond doubt, calls for action quickly gathered momentum. It led to international agreements curbing the pollutants from burning fossil fuels that acidify rain

BBC World Service - Witness History, Acid rain

Amendments to the Clean Air Act in the US saw the development of a cap and trade system, giving companies an incentive to reduce emissions of sulphur and nitrogen, and trade any excess allowances. Each year, the cap was ratcheted down until emissions dropped dramatically

So did it work? Acid rain is now largely a thing of the past in Europe and North America, although it remains a problem elsewhere, particularly in Asia

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