03 APRIL 2018
Developing countries must lead on solar geoengineering research
The nations that are most vulnerable to climate change must drive
discussions of modelling, ethics and governance, argue A. Atiq Rahman,
Paulo Artaxo, Asfawossen Asrat, Andy Parker and 8 co-signatories.
People in the global south are on the front line of climate change. As
global temperatures creep upwards, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC) is forecasting rising seas eroding small island states1
food production in many regions of Asia2
<https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-03917-8#ref-CR2>, water stress
across Africa3 <https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-03917-8#ref-CR3> and
major loss of biodiversity in South America4
Developing countries have spoken out on climate policy. Links between
climate justice and development are now accepted, as is the idea that
nations have common responsibilities — emitters are liable for impacts felt
elsewhere. Despite having emitted very little greenhouse gas themselves,
the world’s least-developed countries and small-island states demanded that
the 2015 Paris climate agreement require warming to be kept “well below” 2
°C, and that a 1.5 °C limit should also be explored.
But there is a limit to what populations threatened by sea-level rise,
biodiversity loss, droughts and hurricanes can do. Mitigation of climate
change is crucial. The emissions cuts agreed in Paris are not enough — they
will take the world to a 3 °C rise (see go.nature.com/2u3ybkh). Adaptation
is therefore essential. As the scale of the damage grows, more countries
will turn to the “loss and damage” provisions in the Paris agreement. And
these are vague: who should pay how much, and to whom, for lost farming or
fishing livelihoods? What size of cheque would compensate for the
destruction of coral reefs?
In that context, solar geoengineering — injecting aerosol particles into
the stratosphere to reflect away a little inbound sunlight — is being
discussed as a way to cool the planet, fast. The technique is
controversial, and rightly so. It is too early to know what its effects
would be: it could be very helpful or very harmful. Developing countries
have most to gain or lose. In our view, they must maintain their climate
leadership and play a central part in research and discussions around solar
Solar geoengineering is outlandish and unsettling. It invokes technologies
that are redolent of science fiction — jets lacing the stratosphere with
sunlight-blocking particles, and fleets of ships spraying seawater into
low-lying clouds to make them whiter and brighter to reflect sunlight. Yet,
if such approaches could be realized technically and politically, they
could slow, stop or even reverse the rise in global temperatures within one
or two years. No other way of doing this has been conceived. Removing
greenhouse gases from the air would take decades, if it is even possible.
A decade of modelling research indicates that solar geoengineering might
reduce many of the worst effects of climate change if deployed in
moderation. For example, injecting 5 megatonnes of sulfur dioxide into the
stratosphere — about one-quarter of that released by Mount Pinatubo’s
eruption in 1991 — each year could keep warming below 2 °C. (However, there
are likely to be limits to how much cooling can be achieved, especially
under high greenhouse-gas emissions scenarios5
<https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-03917-8#ref-CR5>.) Studies have
found that solar geoengineering should also be able to reduce climate
impacts on hydrology, redressing trends in which wet regions get wetter and
dry regions get drier6
temperatures would slow global sea-level rise7
<https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-03917-8#ref-CR7> and could curb
the increasing incidence and strength of tropical cyclones8
A decade ago, there were serious concerns that solar geoengineering might
produce stark winners and losers and might disrupt the monsoons. Research
has allayed these worries. For example, it seems conceivable that moderate
solar geoengineering would benefit many regions that are vulnerable to
climate change, with few losers. Monsoon rains would be affected less than
if climate change proceeds unchecked9
But solar geoengineering is no panacea; it could compound some risks of
climate change. It would only mask the warming effect of greenhouse gases.
Ocean acidification would still pose a threat to marine life if
carbon-dioxide emissions were not slashed. Sulfur dioxide might delay ozone
regeneration in the stratosphere. And whichever aerosol was used to filter
out sunlight, more research would be needed on its impacts on health and
The overall effects of solar geoengineering are uncertain. All studies so
far are based on computer simulations, which are poor at forecasting
regional climates, for example. The Earth system might hold surprises that
digital models do not capture. The projections require thorough and
Furthermore, solar geoengineering raises difficult socio-political issues
that cannot be wished away. It is uncertain how, or whether, the technique
could be governed in ways that ensure prudence, accountability and justice.
Who has the right to implement an inherently global technology? Would the
technology weaken multilateral commitments to reduce emissions such as the
These issues matter deeply to developing nations. But most
solar-geoengineering research is being done in the well-heeled universities
of Europe and North America. Unless that changes, voices from the global
north will set the policy agenda and decide which research projects should
be accelerated or shut down.
We are neutral on whether solar geoengineering should ever be used. It has
not yet been established whether it would be a beneficial addition to
meeting the Paris goals. We recognize its potential physical risks and
socio-political implications. And we oppose its deployment until research
into its safety and effectiveness has been completed and
international-governance mechanisms established. But we are committed to
the co-production of research and to well-informed debate.
Others have already taken sides. Some people in the global north have tried
to convince their peers in the south that they should reject solar
geoengineering. Campaigners who vehemently oppose it often make their case
by emphasizing the risks and playing down the potential benefits10
<https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-03917-8#ref-CR10>. We take
issue with this paternalism and propose an inclusive way forward.
Developing countries must be in a position to make up their own minds.
Local scientists, in collaboration with others, need to conduct research
that is sensitive to regional concerns and conditions. For example, what
effects might solar geoengineering have on hurricanes in the Caribbean,
flooding in Bangladesh or agriculture in East Africa? Broader discussions
among academics, policymakers, the public and public intellectuals are
needed on climate risks and justice.
To begin this process, we (and the co-signatories of this Comment) have
been running solar-geoengineering engagement workshops across the global
south — the first of their kind — as part of the SRM Governance Initiative
(SRMGI), in which SRM stands for solar radiation management. International
and non-governmental, SRMGI was launched in 2010 by the Royal Society in
London, The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) in Trieste, Italy, and the
Environmental Defense Fund in New York City. The regional workshops — held
mostly in the past three years in Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Ethiopia,
India, Jamaica, Kenya, Thailand, New Zealand (for the Pacific states),
Pakistan and the Philippines — have brought together local climate
scientists, journalists, policymakers and representatives of civil society
to learn about and discuss solar geoengineering.
Participants had no consensus position on the technology. But they raised
common hopes and concerns. In general, we found widespread opposition to
deployment at this stage, but support for studies of local impacts. As a
participant at the Nairobi workshop put it: “This idea is crazy … but we
have to understand it.” Many were sceptical about whether the methods would
work and if developing countries, rather than more powerful governments,
would have any say in how and whether solar geoengineering is deployed.
To fund regional research, this week, SRMGI issues the first call for
applications to a US$400,000 fund called Developing Country Impacts
Modelling Analysis for SRM (DECIMALS). The fund is administered by TWAS and
financed by the Open Philanthropy Project, a foundation backed by Cari Tuna
and Dustin Moskovitz (co-founder of Facebook and the project-management app
Asana). Developing-world scientists can apply to DECIMALS for funds to
model the solar-geoengineering impacts that matter most to their regions.
International collaborations will be supported and researchers will be
asked to run local workshops to promote wider discussion of the
implications of their findings.
Further outreach and research in the developing world will require extra
support from governments, universities and civil society worldwide.
Research funders in advanced economies should fund collaborations with
scientists in developing countries. We would like to see an IPCC special
report on the risks and benefits of solar geoengineering. Ultimately, a
coordinated global research initiative — perhaps under an organization such
as the World Climate Research Programme — is needed to promote
collaborative science on this controversial issue.
Solar geoengineering is fraught with risks and can never be an alternative
to mitigation. But it’s unclear whether the risks of solar geoengineering
are greater than the risks of breaking the 1.5 °C warming target. As things
stand, politicians will face this dismal dilemma within a couple of
decades. It is right, politically and morally, for the global south to have
a central role in solar-geoengineering research, discussion and evaluation.
Nature 556, 22-24 (2018)
On Wednesday, April 4, 2018 at 3:55:21 AM UTC+1, Alan Robock wrote:
> Alan Robock, Distinguished Professor
> Editor, *Reviews of Geophysics*
> Department of Environmental Sciences Phone:
> Rutgers University
> Fax: +1-732-932-8644
> 14 College Farm Road E-mail:
> New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8551 USA
> ☮ http://twitter.com/AlanRobock 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to ICAN!
> Watch my 18 min TEDx talk at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsrEk1oZ-54
> Sent from my iPad
> Begin forwarded message:
> *Date:* April 3, 2018 at 7:59:34 PM MDT
> *Subject:* *DECIMALS Fund – call for proposals opens today*
> DECIMALS Fund
> Call for proposals opens today
> The SRM Governance Initiative is proud to announce the opening of the call
> for proposals for a major new SRM modelling fund for developing country
> scientists: the DECIMALS Fund (Developing Country Impacts Modelling
> Analysis for SRM). DECIMALS will support scientists from the Global South
> who want to analyse how SRM geoengineering might affect their regions.
> DECIMALS is the first fund of its kind and it features in a Comment
> that’s published today in Nature, where a group of eminent Southern
> scholars and NGO leaders call for developing countries to play a central
> role in SRM research and discussion.
> Grants of up to USD$70k will support scientists as they explore the
> climate impacts that matter most locally, from droughts to cyclones to
> extreme temperatures to precipitation changes. The DECIMALS Fund aims to go
> beyond research: its wider goals include capacity-building,
> community-building, and expanding the conversation around SRM. DECIMALS
> research teams will therefore receive financial support to attend
> conferences, to collaborate with each other and with SRM modelling experts,
> and to discuss their findings with their local communities at the end of
> their projects.
> Note that applicants do not need to be experts in SRM at the time of
> application, as there has been little research on this across the Global
> South to date. See here
> for full information about the grants, applicant eligibility, and the
> application process. The call is open from now until *29 May 2018.*
> Please do pass this along contacts and colleagues who might be interested
> in applying, and feel free to circulate it on departmental or professional
> email groups.
> The SRMGI team
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> from this list. Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative .
> Kienitzer Str. 100 . Berlin 12049 . Germany
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