Small Island States and Climate Engineering: Panacea or Catastrophe

posted 11 May 2014, 16:19 by Bodeker Scientific   [ updated 11 May 2014, 16:38 ]

Climate engineering is rapidly being considered as a potential strategy to counteract and avoid dangerous climate change, in part due to a perceived lack of progress on crucial greenhouse gases (GHG) emission reductions. The recently released IPCC AR5 WG1 report suggests that without swift and dramatic mitigation of GHG emissions, global warming could easily exceed the internationally promoted upper limit of 2°C, creating risks which may prove intolerable.

Put simply, climate engineering refers to technological methods that aim to deliberately alter the climate system to counter climate change.[1] These methods have the potential to offset global climate change by reducing either the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or the amount of sunlight that reaches the earth. Climate engineering methods are largely classified into two main groups: Solar Radiation Management (SRM) and Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR).

SRM techniques attempt to offset the effects of increased GHG concentrations by reducing the amount of solar radiation absorbed by the Earth. This may be achieved by increasing the reflectivity of the planet, for example, by brightening human structures, planting crops with a high albedo, or covering deserts with reflective material. Other techniques aim to enhance marine cloud reflectivity by introducing sea salt aerosols in low clouds, mimic the effects of volcanic eruptions by injecting sulphate aerosols into the lower stratosphere, or place shields or deflectors in space to reduce the amount of incoming solar radiation.

CDR techniques aim to address the cause of climate change by removing GHG from the atmosphere. This would include advanced land use management strategies (LUMS) to protect or enhance land carbon sinks, and the use of biomass for both carbon sequestration (including bio-char (charcoal)) and as a carbon neutral energy source. The removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, either through the enhancement of natural weathering processes (or direct capture from ambient air) are further examples, as well as the enhancement of oceanic CO2 uptake through ocean fertilisation with scare nutrients or the enhancement of upwelling processes.

Penehuro Fatu Lefale, Bodeker Scientific International Climate and Policy Analyst, and Dr Cheryl Lea Anderson, Director, Hazards, Climate and Environment Program, Social Science Research Institute, University of Hawai’i, have just published a paper “Small Island States and Climate Engineering: Panacea or Catastrophe?” The paper explores climate engineering from a Small Island States’ perspective, based on the authors’ experience in the lead up to and during negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted at the Earth Summit (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992, their post UNCED experience and views expressed by participants of the Perspectives on Climate Engineering from Pacific Small Island States workshop held in Suva, Fiji, in August 2013. The Suva workshop was organised by the Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PACE-SD), University of the South Pacific (USP) and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies-Potsdam (Germany).

The paper is part of the ‘Geoengineering Our Climate?’ Working Paper and Opinion Article Series, the first series of papers dedicated to exploring the ethics, politics and governance of this provocative new issue. Relying upon the written contributions of a global network of scholars, policy-makers, and civic environmentalists, around forty Working Papers (~5000 words) and Opinion Articles (~1500 words) will be released over 2013-2014, accompanied by a short video interview with their authors. The collected works will then be published in 2015 by Earthscan from Routledge’s Science in Society series, titled Geoengineering Our Climate? Ethics, Politics and Governance (HB: 978-1-84971-373-3, PB: 978-1-84971-374-0).

The Series is supported by high-profile institutes from across the global north and south: the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (Germany); the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, University of Oxford (UK); the Consortium on Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University (US); the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (India); the Research Centre for Sustainable Development at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (China); and the Brazilian Research Group on International Relations and Climate Change (Brazil). 

Read the full article here.

[1] Bouncher, O., Gruder, N. and Blackstock, J., 2011; Summary of the Synthesis Session in: IPCC Expert Meeting Report on Geoengineering. [O. Edenhofer, G. Hanse, M. Mastrandrea (eds.)] IPCC Working Group III Technical Support Unit, Potsdam Institute for Climate INact Research, Potsdam, Germany, p.7.