15 December 2017

We Need to Talk About Geoengineering

With global warming fast approaching the 1.5-2°C limit set by the Paris Climate Change Agreement, world leaders meet in Bonn this week to bolster nations’ commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But reducing emissions alone won’t be enough. To keep the earth from catastrophic warming, a rapid roll-out of “negative emissions technologies” is needed to remove carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere.

Even then, there is a chance of a significant temperature overshoot. To tackle that, some scientists are proposing techniques to reflect more heat back into space, known as solar geoengineering.

These technologies come with risks, both known and unknown, and could cause harm to already vulnerable regions. At the time, the risks must be weighed against the significant threat posed by rising temperatures.

But at present there is limited international governance for geoengineering research and deployment; very few rules of the road, and no agreement on how decisions should be made.

This poses a risk in itself. In the worst scenarios, ungoverned geoengineering deployment could threaten international security.

Despite active discussion within the scientific community, and rising media interest, climate geoengineering remains largely absent from political and public debates.

In a recent article in Science Magazine, Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative (C2G2) called upon policy-makers to become more actively involved. Given the low levels of knowledge and high levels of misperceptions surrounding geoengineering, the piece also offers a useful overview of the issue, and addresses some commonly asked questions.

At this year’s Planetary Security Conference, C2G2 will host a workshop on Climate Geoengineering and its Potential Impacts on Security and Governance. It will bring together international security experts, policymakers and civil society, to debate the impact of climate geoengineering on development, stability, migration and human rights.

If you want to know more about the risks of climate engineering technologies, you may want to listen to this podcast by Simon Nicholson of the American University, Washington D.C..