Background: the failure to cut emissions

Despite years of negotiation, the nations of the world have so far failed to agree to limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

This has increased interest in geoengineering—deliberate, large-scale interventions in Earth’s climate system, in order to moderate global warming.

Geoengineering, a climate emergency option?

In 2009, the Royal Society, a fellowship of the world's most eminent scientists, issued a report concluding that geoengineering is not an alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, it may be seen as the only way to reduce global temperatures quickly, should it be considered necessary. The Royal Society's 2009 report called for transparent, responsible, international research into geoengineering techniques and associated governance issues. The issues associated with geoengineering research and deployment extend far beyond the science of how to safely use the technology. The most difficult issues lie in the areas of ethics, politics, and governance. As communities and policymakers around the world face the risks presented by a rapidly changing climate, understanding the scientific, ethical, and governance issues at the core of geoengineering research will be critical to making informed decisions about response options.

Solar radiation management

Solar radiation management (SRM, also known as solar geoengineering) is a set of theoretical proposals for cooling the Earth by reflecting a small percentage of the sun's light and heat back into space.

SRM may offer valuable opportunities to reduce global warming, but it could also have harmful side effects on ecosystems and human society. In short, SRM could be helpful or harmful in managing climate risks, but we do not yet know enought to understand its full implications. The most that could be expected from SRM would be to serve as a short-term tool to manage some climate risks if efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions prove too slow to prevent atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations from causing severe disruption of the Earth's climate. In that case, we need to understand what intervention options exist and the implications of deploying them.

Ensuring responsible research

Few international guidelines for SRM research exist, so the Royal Society partnered with The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to form SRMGI.

SRMGI aims to build capacity for understanding, cooperation and practical action on SRM research governance, in order to ensure that SRM research is conducted in a manner that is responsible, transparent and environmentally sound.

Involving many stakeholders

SRMGI involves a wide variety of stakeholders to ensure that diverse perspectives, especially those in the developing world and emerging economies are actively included in global discussions of SRM research and governance. While much of the limited research on solar radiation management has taken place in the developed world, the ethical, political, and social implications of SRM research are necessarily global. Discussion about its governance should be as well.

Building international trust via informed dialogue at the level of the science academies, non-governmental organizations, policymakers, and other stakeholders, SRMGI strives to create conditions conducive to international cooperation, rather than those that spawn mutual suspicion, misinformation, and unilateralism. SRMGI cannot predict where these research governance discussions will lead, and a pre-determined outcome is not its goal. Instead, the project seeks to build global capacity to engage in an informed debate about if and how to responsibly conduct geoengineering research. SRMGI's activities are founded on the idea that early and sustained dialogue among diverse stakeholders around the world, informed by the best available science, will increase the chances of SRM research being handled responsibly.

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