Geo Engineering: Elite American scientific body calls for govt funding of research on controversial climate action approach

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April 6, 2021 5:30 AM

Solar geoengineering—primarily altering clouds or introducing particles in the atmosphere to reflect sunlight—has been limited to computer simulations/modelling, and niche experiments.

The risks and the likely gains from such interventions need to be studied carefully before governments commit to these. Representative Image

An elite, public-funded scientific institution in a developed economy urging its government to consider a controversial warming-mitigation intervention is perhaps a telling commentary on what hope there is of meaningful climate action. As per a report by Nature, the US’s National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) has called on the government to fund (to the tune of $200 million over five years) research on solar geoengineering—that is artificially blocking some of the solar heat received by the Earth.

So far, this has only been talked about as an emergency climate measure. Solar geoengineering—primarily altering clouds or introducing particles in the atmosphere to reflect sunlight—has been limited to computer simulations/modelling, and niche experiments. The NASEM report calls for the US to work with other nations and settle the modalities of ethics and governance, including code of conduct for scientists, open-access registry of research proposals and results as well as approval for field experiments.

A great many number of experts have voiced scepticism over such research, saying it could have unpredictable, unintended consequences, and governments and the industry could go slack on climate-friendly action in anticipation even when results of such experiments wouldn’t have fully emerged or been absorbed. To be sure, the report is not calling for deployment but merely research—however, what use is such research if deployment based on satisfactory results is not in the picture? There have been modelling studies in the past, but the question before governments now is that whether they should also be funding real-world experiments.

The risks and the likely gains from such interventions need to be studied carefully before governments commit to these. The US, and others looking at such interventionist research, must understand that climate change is a collective problem. If one country conducts experiments that jeopardise climate efforts made by the rest—and ends up eroding these if the experiments are unsuccessful—it won’t be just that country that will have to suffer the consequences.

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