Developing countries' voices join international discussions on how solar geoengineering research should be governed
Scientists, environmentalists and policymakers will gather Tuesday, 22 November, in São José dos Campos, Brazil, as part of an ambitious project to increase developing country engagement with issues related to the governance of solar radiation management (SRM) geoengineering research.
SRM would involve blocking out a small amount of sunlight – for instance, by spraying reflective particles into the upper atmosphere – in order to cool the Earth. If it could be made to work safely and reliably, it would be the only currently known approach that could quickly stop global temperatures from rising. Therefore, it might offer a unique way to reduce some of the climate risks to which humanity is committed from the greenhouse gases that have already been released, as well as those expected to be released over the coming decades. Some experts think that SRM might prove the only way to achieve the 1.5C global warming aspiration agreed in the Paris climate negotiations. However, there are still large uncertainties around the possible benefits and drawbacks of using SRM.
Developing countries have an especially high stake in discussions about SRM. They are often less resilient to environmental change and more vulnerable to the impacts of global warming, which means they stand to gain or lose the most from SRM – whether it is ultimately used or rejected. However, most of the research and discussion of SRM has so far taken place in developed countries.
The Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (SRMGI) is addressing this by expanding the discussion of the governance of SRM research to developing countries and emerging economies. It has led the way in this area, holding meetings around Asia and Africa starting in 2011. Now, thanks to a grant from the Open Philanthropy Project, it will be holding additional meetings across the developing world over the next year.
Tomorrow’s meeting in Brazil comes on the heels of an SRMGI workshop in Kingston, Jamaica, in July – the first of its kind in the Caribbean – and will be followed by SRMGI meetings over the next two weeks in Guadeloupe (with the Caribbean Academy of Sciences), New Delhi (with the Council on Energy, Environment and Water), and Islamabad (with the Sustainable Development Policy Institute).
“Small island developing states are on the front lines of climate change, and any decisions about SRM that are made without our input will not be legitimate – we need more evidence about SRM and wider discussions about research governance,” said Adrian Watson, National Coordinator at the Caribbean Youth Environment Network Jamaica, and a participant in the SRMGI workshop in Kingston.
Workshops in 2017 will be held in Thailand, the Philippines, Kenya, Bangladesh, China and Jordan.
Some participants from these meetings will then meet again in Berlin in October 2017 for the SRMGI Global Forum, to be held in concert with the Climate Engineering Conference 2017.
“Solar geoengineering concerns me because we don’t know its full effects. But we need to actively engage in SRM research governance discussions in order to voice the concerns of the developing world,” said Professor Asfawossen Asrat Kassaye of the Addis Ababa University, a participant in the SRMGI meetings in Ethiopia and South Africa.
Tomorrow’s meeting in Brazil is being convened jointly SRMGI and the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research. It will explore SRM science, ethics, and economics, and seek input from participants about the next steps for research governance in Brazil and beyond.
“It is crucial that developing countries have clear understanding of the implications of geoengineering and, in particular, solar geoengineering research governance,” said Professor Carlos Nobre, who is on the steering group for tomorrow’s meeting. “With tomorrow’s workshop we hope to kick start a critical conversation about the promises and perils of intervening in our climate system.”
The Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (SRMGI) is an international, non-governmental project that was founded in 2010 by Environmental Defense Fund, The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), and the Royal Society. It seeks to expand the global conversation around the governance of research into solar geoengineering, and its work focuses particularly on developing countries to ensure their involvement in this important conversation because of their greater vulnerability to environmental change. SRMGI is funded by a grant from the Open Philanthropy Project, a joint venture between GiveWell and Good Ventures. SRMGI is always looking for opportunities to expand this important discussion, and for potential partner organisations in developing countries.