APRIL 7, 2018 / 3:39 PM / UPDATED 3 HOURS AGO
Rules to govern sun-dimming technology 'urgently' needed - expert
Laurie Goering <>


LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With a miniature experiment to try to
cool the planet by blocking sunlight planned in Arizona within a year,
international rules to govern “geoengineering” efforts must be put in place
quickly, a governance advocate said.

An open, inclusive discussion on how the world will research and govern
solar geoengineering is “urgently” in the face of such plans, said Janos
Pasztor, head of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative.

“We could be in danger of events overtaking society’s capacity to respond
prudently and effectively,” he said on Friday before a speech at Arizona
State University.

World leaders agreed in the 2015 Paris deal on climate change to hold any
rise in average global temperature to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius.

But with a shift away from fossil fuels happening slower than is needed,
and the world on track to more than 3 degrees Celsius of warming, some
scientists now say engineering efforts to cut the risks of excess warming
may be needed.


Those might range from efforts to dump iron into the ocean to help
carbon-absorbing plankton grow more quickly to spraying saltwater into sea
clouds to make them reflect more sunlight.

Researchers at Harvard University hope this year to use a high-altitude
balloon to release about a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of sun-dimming mineral
dust into the stratosphere above the U.S. state of Arizona.

The experiment would mimic, on a tiny scale, how large volcanic eruptions
cool the earth by blasting ash into the atmosphere.

The technique does not actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,
however, and so would have little effect on climate change concerns such as
increasing acidification of the world’s oceans.

A U.N. panel of climate experts, in a leaked draft of a report about global
warming due out in October, said such solar geoengineering, at larger scale
may be “economically, socially and institutionally infeasible.”

Developing world scholars from a range of climate-vulnerable countries
noted in the journal Nature last week that “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”.

Simon Nicholson, co-executive director of the Forum for Climate Engineering
Assessment, based in Washington, said while early geoengineering
experiments like Harvard’s present no physical risk, they could lay the
groundwork for eventual large-scale deployment of the technology.

“The urgency comes from the desire to get out in front of something that
might be important a few years from now,” Nicholson told the Thomson
Reuters Foundation.

“The risk comes from the slippery slope argument, that it could quickly
move from something that looks like a test to something that looks like

Large-scale use of such sun-dimming technology could have a range of
little-understood side effects, scientists warn, including potentially
shifting Asian monsoons that are crucial to farming that feeds billions.

Nicholson said the planned Arizona experiment has met all legal
requirements, and the researchers have pushed to include an environmental
impact assessment even though it is not formally required by law.

“They could do this experiment tomorrow. Under Harvard research guidelines
and U.S. law there is nothing stopping them. All the boxes are checked,” he

But “they’re going slow because they realize that, as the first labeled
solar geoengineering experiment, they have an obligation to get it right”,
he said.


Pasztor, a former United Nations assistant secretary-general on climate
change, said a growing number of governments “recognize some parts of
geoengineering are coming ... and we need to seriously deal with it”.

“It’s on their radar screen,” he said.

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