This article was last updated on May 13, 2022
In a recent paper on the WIREs website, a group of scientists have weighed in on their concerns about one technology called Solar Geoengineering being considered as a potential solution for global warming.
Let’s start with this definition:
“In 2021, Harvard’s Solar Geogineering Research Program under its
Let’s look at some key excerpts with my bolds:
“Solar geoengineering is mainly discussed as an intervention at planetary scale to lower global mean temperatures in response to global warming. The most prominent proposal is the injection of aerosols in the stratosphere to inhibit the influx of solar energy. Interventions that are more regional or local in intent, such as marine cloud brightening to protect fragile ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef, are also conceivable, but they differ significantly in terms of governance, politics, and scale….”
“The idea of solar geoengineering is gaining traction in a few industrialized countries. In March 2021, for instance, a report by a committee of the US National Academy of Sciences concluded that the United States should establish, ideally in international collaboration, a research program to assess the feasibility of solar geoengineering as a stopgap measure for addressing anthropogenic climate change. Individual researchers in the United States have called for a globally organized “mission-driven research program” on solar geoengineering and for a special IPCC report on this topic….
Advocates of solar geoengineering research argue, implicitly or explicitly, that international climate governance has been largely ineffective and that the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to well below 2°C and preferably to 1.5°C is unlikely to be met, given current trends and policies (e.g., Svoboda et al., 2018; Wagner, 2021). Therefore, proponents argue, solar geoengineering should be researched now to better understand its potential efficacy and to have it available, if deemed feasible, as a future option…
To us, these proliferating calls for solar geoengineering research and development are cause for alarm, as they risk the normalization of these technologies as a future policy option. So far, the risks and efficacy of solar geoengineering are poorly understood...“
The authors’ main concern is the lack of a global governance mechanism to oversee the technical, political and ethical risks of these massive solar geoengineering interventions given that such interventions would require complex decisions that would have to be made on a global scale. They believe that the potential benefits and risks of such a program would be unevenly spread, particularly negatively impacting people of the global south who are living in the poorest nations on earth where a change in climate could have a dramatic negative impact on their lives.
Here is another excerpt:
“…any global decisions on the details of the deployment of solar geoengineering are unlikely to find consensus. Disagreements about some parameters—for example, the degree of cooling, the duration of deployment, or the specific latitudes and distribution of aerosols—will inevitably occur. Such situations would require clear and reliable decision-making procedures for solving these disagreements….In short, the deployment of solar geoengineering at planetary scale would require entirely new international organizations with convincing means of democratic control and unprecedented enforcement powers. Such organizations do not exist.“
For many reasons, not all of which are covered in this posting, the authors of the paper are calling for a “Non-use Agreement on Solar Engineering” which would included the following five core prohibitions and measures:
1.) The commitment to prohibit their national funding agencies from supporting the development of technologies for solar geoengineering, domestically and through international institutions.
2.) The commitment to ban outdoor experiments of solar geoengineering technologies in areas under their jurisdiction.
3.) The commitment to not grant patent rights for technologies for solar geoengineering, including supporting technologies such as for the retrofitting of airplanes for aerosol injections.
4.) The commitment to not deploy technologies for solar geoengineering if developed by third parties.
5.) The commitment to object to future institutionalization of planetary solar geoengineering as a policy option in relevant international institutions, including in assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This group of scientists are not the only scientists that are concerned about solar geoengineering. The Union of Concerned Scientists has also expressed its concern about the use of solar geoengineering as quoted
Here’s a quote from the press release:
“The report says the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) should lead the effort to establish and coordinate a solar geoengineering research program across federal agencies and scientific disciplines, with funding in the range of $100 million-$200 million over the first five years. USGCRP would enable oversight and governance of research activities, including ensuring peer review, coordinating budget proposals and requests, periodically assessing progress, and defining program goals. Funding should be set aside specifically for implementation of governance and public engagement efforts.
The research agenda should encompass 13 specific areas of research, which can be grouped into the following three broad areas of investigation:
1.) Context and goals for solar geoengineering research, including research on the goals and social context for solar geoengineering research, developing modeling scenarios, strategies for decision-making under uncertainty, and the capacity needed for all countries to engage meaningfully on this issue.
2.)Impacts and technical dimensions, including the properties of injected reflective particles and their interactions with clouds and atmospheric processes, possible climate outcomes and subsequent impacts on ecological and societal systems, technical requirements for advancing these technologies, and advancing monitoring and attribution capabilities.
3.) Social dimensions, including research on public perceptions of and engagement with solar geoengineering; domestic and international conflict and cooperation; effective governance of solar geoengineering; and integration of justice, ethics, and equity considerations.“
As you can see, some scientists are very concerned about the prospect of the use of solar geoengineering technology to mitigate climate change and its potential long-term negative impact on the entire world. Since the science is still in its infancy, their concern is valid.
Let’s close with this thought on solar geoengineering:
What could possibly go wrong?
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