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?
Geoengineering has been suggested as a potential new tool to address a changing climate. Geoengineering aims to intervene in the climate system by deliberately modifying Earth’s energy balance to cool and eventually stabilize temperatures at a lower level than would otherwise occur with global warming. Geoengineering methods are classified into two groups: carbon dioxide removal (CDR) that reduces levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, and solar radiation management (SRM) that diminishes short-wave solar radiation.
Solar radiation management
SRM aims to offset global warming by cooling the planet through anthropogenic technologies. Strategies to achieve this include brightening clouds or the earth’s surface, adding reflective matter to the atmosphere, or inserting light scattering material in space between the Sun and Earth. While SRM methods do not reduce concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, they can rapidly decrease global temperatures, an advantage over CDR methods. Prospective SRM technologies would also likely be less expensive than mitigation activities, and could potentially reduce global temperatures to pre-industrial levels within a few years.
Ensuring responsible global research
Currently, few international guidelines for SRM research exist. The Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (SRMGI) is an international NGO-driven project that seeks to promote the good governance of SRM. Founded in 2010, SRMGI is co-convened by the Environmental Defense Fund, the Royal Society and The World Academy of Sciences, and has led the world in bringing people together around discussions of SRM. The organization provides a unique platform for dialogue, and has run outreach meetings on SRM research and its governance in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
SRMGI engages with a wide variety of experts and organizations from across the globe to expand discussions of SRM. It has a particular focus on bringing in perspectives from the developing world and emerging economies, as early discussions of SRM have thus far been dominated by experts in developed countries. In partnership with local NGOs, SRMGI has organized workshops in India, China and Pakistan, as well as in Senegal, South Africa and Ethiopia, creating an unparalleled network of international SRM experts, as well as gaining expertise in making outreach meetings accessible and effective for those new to the topic. SRMGI focuses on the science, with discussions of the existing evidence for and main uncertainties around SRM. The organization also seeks input from a wide range of disciplines, including natural and social sciences, governance, law, the environment, and development.
SRMGI is neither in favor of, nor against, SRM geoengineering and related research, since it is impossible to tell at this stage whether the technology will be helpful or harmful. SRM is a controversial issue that has potentially serious global implications, and SRMGI believes that in order to promote good governance of the technology, multi-stakeholder discussions, alongside international network building, will strengthen humanity’s ability to address this issue.