Climate engineering: GRI Associate Director explores the uncertain geopolitical risks and ramifications
by Christine Boynton, GRI
December 13, 2017
Though climate engineering–the concept of human intervention in the earth’s weather patterns–may be viewed by some as a way to combat the changing climate, the approach could have many serious ramifications, Global Resilience Institute Associate Director Jennie Stephens points out in a recent interview.
“There is a potential for a huge power differential with regard to who’s making decisions for who,” Stephens told News@Northeastern, adding that it is “almost inevitable” that optimizing the climate in one region of the world will have unforeseen consequences in another. She notes, “It’s easy to imagine that the United States might want to seek outcomes that maintain favorable precipitation patterns for Midwest farmers, but in doing so, it might actually exacerbate conditions in the Sahel.”
Stephens has co-authored a paper on this topic, with Union of Concerned Scientists Chief Climate Scientist and Director of Science and Policy Peter Frumhoff entitled; Toward Legitimacy of the Solar Geoengineering Research Enterprise. The paper identifies controversial proposed methods, points out the uncertain geopolitical risks and ramifications, and highlights the distinctive responsibilities of researchers and research funders.
“Mounting evidence that even aggressive reductions in net emissions of greenhouse gases will be insufficient to limit global climate risks is increasing calls for atmospheric experiments to better understand the risks and implications of also deploying solar geoengineering technologies to reflect sunlight and rapidly lower surface temperatures,” the paper states. “But solar geoengineering research itself poses significant environmental and geopolitical risks. Given limited societal awareness and public dialogue about this climate response option, conducting such experiments without meaningful societal engagement could galvanize opposition to solar geoengineering research from civil society, including the most climate vulnerable communities who are among its intended beneficiaries. Here, we explore whether and how a solar geoengineering research enterprise might be developed in a way that promotes legitimacy as well as scientific credibility and policy-relevance.”