ANALYSIS-After sun setback, geo-engineers seek diplomatic solution


* ‘Solar geo-engineering’ research faces hurdles * Indigenous opposition triggers overhaul of 2022 strategy

* New commission to examine the risks of overshooting climate targets By Alister Doyle

OSLO, Jan 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In 1965, science advisers to U.S. President Lyndon Johnson encouraged research into the reflection of sunlight to keep the Earth cool amid splashes of an alarming buildup of gas at greenhouse effect in the atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels. Nearly six decades later, research into “solar geoengineering” has made little headway.

It attracts less than 1% of climate science budgets, amid fears that tampering with the global thermostat could produce unintended consequences – and divert attention from a dire need for deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. tight. But governments face increasingly difficult choices as global warming approaches 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) – a threshold set in the 2015 Paris Agreement, agreed by around 200 country, to avoid increasingly damaging floods, droughts, forest fires and melting ice.

Such impacts are already increasing with temperatures now just 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. Last year, opposition from indigenous peoples forced the cancellation of a highly publicized first outdoor test of solar geoengineering technology by Harvard University.

The planned balloon flight over Sweden was designed as a first step towards releasing tiny reflective particles 20km high into the atmosphere, to see if they could form a planetary haze mimicking a volcanic eruption. Major eruptions – like that of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 – can reduce global temperatures for more than a year, as a mask of ash circulates in the stratosphere.

This year, after the setback, funders of research into the risks and benefits of solar geoengineering are turning to diplomacy to advance their work. “There’s no question that in the public battle, if it’s Harvard versus Indigenous people, we can’t go on. It’s just a reality,” said David Keith, a professor of applied physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, who was involved in the balloon project, known as SCoPEx.

Harvard was considering alternative launch sites, but Keith said, “We could kill the project as well. We really don’t know. INDIGENOUS OPPOSITION

Åsa Larsson-Blind, vice president of the Saami Council of Reindeer Herders, which led opposition to the test, sent an open letter to Harvard University in June calling for an end to SCoPEx. The group said the project violated indigenous peoples’ principles of living in harmony with nature. So far, “we haven’t had a response,” she said.

Janos Pasztor, executive director of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative, said solar geoengineering research efforts are focused on gaining broader support. He said he doubted there would be any outdoor experiments in the upper atmosphere this year.

“There’s diplomatic work behind the scenes – you don’t see a lot of that on Twitter,” he said. One of the aims of this campaign is to ensure that solar geoengineering is discussed for the first time by the United Nations General Assembly, the main decision-making body of the United Nations, during a session starting in September. 2023.

Pasztor said the risks of geoengineering — such as potential bias in global weather patterns and monsoon rains — must be judged against the rapidly worsening impacts of climate change. “Are the risks of a 2C (warmer) world worse than the risks” of geoengineering?, he asked.

This is an issue that should be on the global diplomatic agenda. DEALING WITH OVERFLOW

The Paris Peace Forum, a non-governmental group, plans to appoint a commission of former heads of government in the coming weeks to consider options if global temperatures exceed Paris Agreement targets. The “Global Commission on Climate Overshoot Risk Governance”, which will be chaired by Pascal Lamy, former head of the World Trade Organization, will have 12 to 15 members and will report at the end of next year.

Adrien Abecassis, who coordinates work at the Paris Peace Forum, said the commission would consider both solar geoengineering and ways to extract carbon from the air, as well as options such as more climate finance to help developing countries adapt to climate change. Switzerland is also considering submitting a resolution to the United Nations Environment Assembly, which is due to meet in April, to request the United Nations-level review of climate-modifying technologies and measures (CATM). .

“Switzerland believes that an authoritative report from the UN system is essential to enable an informed debate on the CATM and its governance,” said Felix Wertli, head of the global affairs section of the Federal Office Swiss Environment, in an e-mail. . Switzerland, backed by 10 other nations, withdrew a similar resolution at the United Nations Environment Assembly in 2019 after failing to garner sufficient support.

MORATORIUM PUSH Some prominent scientists opposed to geoengineering say there is no need to push forward the examination of these technologies as a means of combating runaway climate change.

“It is dangerous to normalize solar geoengineering research,” Frank Biermann of the University of Utrecht wrote in the journal Nature last year, on behalf of 17 scientists, after the journal called for more research. Instead, “a global moratorium is needed,” he said.

Biermann and more than 60 climate scientists and governance experts on Monday called for an “international non-use agreement on solar geoengineering,” aimed at halting development and deployment of the technology. Decarbonizing economies must be the global priority, they argued, calling solar geoengineering neither ethical nor politically governable.

Lili Fuhr, head of international environmental policy at the German Heinrich Böll Foundation, which opposes geoengineering research, said that “any next step in research would essentially take us down a slippery slope towards deployment. We know enough about its dangers to ever be able to use it. Also this year, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is expected to provide a scientific update on geoengineering research as part of a report due in early April on ways to combat climate change. climate change.

VIEWS OF THE DEVELOPING WORLD Research into geoengineering options by scientists in developing countries is also growing.

Projects under a fund known as Decimals include how “solar radiation management” (SRM) – another term for solar geoengineering – could affect malaria rates in Bangladesh and dust storms in the Middle East. A team led by Inés Camilloni from the University of Buenos Aires is studying how SRM could affect rainfall in South America’s La Plata River Basin, home to 160 million people.

“A key area of ​​concern is the insufficient knowledge of potential impacts on a regional scale – and in this sense much more research is needed,” she said. Andy Parker, who heads the Degrees Initiative and helped create the Decimals project, said research on SRM in developing countries “is doable, it’s desirable”.

The Degrees Initiative, a British non-profit group, was launched in 2010 as a partnership between Britain’s Royal Society, the Italy-based World Academy of Sciences and the US Environmental Defense Fund. He says he wants to help developing countries assess the “controversial technology” of SRM.

In the 1960s, Parker said, little did US President Johnson’s science advisers know that global warming would become so severe in the 21st century. He predicted that the looming 1.5°C threshold would force people to face what he called “the big question: what are our options if emissions reductions prove insufficient?

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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