Can Geoengineering Save Climate Change Vulnerable Nations?

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Can Geoengineering Save Climate Change Vulnerable Nations?

Small Island nations are at the forefront of the climate crises, developing nations in the Pacific Islands like Tonga, Fiji, Tuvalu are seemingly helpless to protect themselves against extreme weather conditions.

During the Pacific Island forum among the 16 Pacific Island members, Australia, and New Zealand, the Pacific Island leaders left the forum feeling unsatisfied because of the lack of commitment from Australian Prime Minister Scot Morrison to take climate change actions, according to CNN news.

Their push to phase out coal and higher emissions targets were thwarted by the Australian Prime Minister, a strong supporter of the coal industry. Coal is one of Australia’s biggest industry and the 2nd largest export according to the Minerals Council of Australia (CNN, 2019 Aug).

Although 65% of Australians believe in climate change the reality is, they are not slowing down on the use of fossil fuel (CNN, 2010 August).

Fijian leader Frank Bainimarama has this to say after the forum, ‘Watered-down climate language has real consequences like water-logged homes, schools, communities, and ancestral burial grounds’ (CNN news, 2019 Aug).

If indeed rich countries aren’t doing enough to combat climate change, while their small island neighbours are sinking and its people dying because of climate change, should the global community turn to other solutions such as geoengineering the climate.

What is Geoengineering?

“But for the countries that are running out of time, it offers a last throw of the dice before they sink beneath the waves” (CNN article, 2019).

To tackle climate change, geoengineering as a climate modification has been suggested as early as 1965 so it’s not an entirely new idea (Geoengineering, 2009).

The stuff that comes out if it is ‘something out of science fiction’ the CNN article says.

Geoengineering the Climate explains:

  • Geoengineering has two basic methods, which are Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) techniques and Solar Radiation Management (SRM). 
  • As the name suggests, carbon dioxide removal uses a technique that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and addresses the root cause of climate change (Geoengineering the climate, 2009).
  • On the other hand, solar radiation management uses a technique that reflects a small percentage of the sun’s light and heats back into space.  It attempts to offset the effects of greenhouse gas concentration by making the earth absorb less solar radiation, according to a paper.

We have provided below an outline of what the Geoengineering the Climate paper mentions:

Carbon Dioxide Removal, which includes the following techniques:

  • Land use management to enhance carbon sinks
  • Use of biomass for carbon sequestration and as a carbon-neutral energy source
  • Enhancement of natural weathering processes to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
  • Direct capture of carbon dioxide from ambient air
  • Enhancement of oceanic absorption of carbon dioxide by fertilization of scarce nutrients or increasing upwelling processes

Solar Radiation Management (SRM)

Solar Radiation Management (SRM) technique does not really treat the root cause of the problem which is reducing greenhouse gas emissions but helpful in emergency cases, for example, to avoid reaching a climate ‘tipping point.

According to one study, SRM includes:

  • Increasing the surface reflectivity by painting human structures with white paint, use of crops with high reflectivity, or covering deserts with reflective material.
  • Enhancement of marine cloud reflectivity
  • Mimicking effects of volcanic eruptions by injecting the stratosphere with sulphate aerosols
  • Placing shields or deflectors in space to reduce the amount of solar energy reaching the earth.

Is Geoengineering feasible?

Because of the slow response to the cumulating climate crises, geoengineering may be a ‘necessary step as well as an emissions mitigation’ the article says.

Because solar radiation management is more cost-effective at least in theory, it is a more attractive option and would keep at bay the worst effects of climate change.

Decarbonizing the atmosphere on the other hand, at a scale that can produce significant results, ‘would be very slow and expensive based on the technologies we have at the moment’ says Andy Parker, co-author of the Royal Society report (CNN article, 2019 Sep).

Global Implications of Geoengineering methods:

Between Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) and Solar radiation management (SRM), CDR is more desirable since it can return the climate system closer to its natural state. However, the use of this has yet to be tested at an affordable cost, the Royal Society paper says.

Although SRM applications are relatively cheap and can produce the desired effects like lowering the global temperatures within a few years after its application, there are risks involved such as its impacts on the delicate balance between the increased greenhouse gas emissions and reduced solar radiation, the paper says. And it would be doubtful for this balance to be sustainable over long periods of time, it adds.

Another SRM application considered is the stratospheric sulphate injection in the atmosphere, an application that mimics volcano eruption. Researchers are still finding cheaper ways of doing this, as ‘planes don’t exist in sufficient numbers and sizes to do that effectively’ says John Moore, a chief scientist at Beijing Normal University’s College of Global Change and Earth System Science (CNN, 2019 September).

Another downside of SRM is its potential to alter the regional weather patterns that could result to droughts in Africa and Asia, damage to the ozone layer, continued ocean acidification, impacts on the ecosystems, and risk or human error among the many other risks mentioned in the paper.

Aside from its issues of feasibility, there are also ethical questions to the applications of Geoengineering.

According to the Royal Society paper, it may weaken conventional mitigation efforts or seen as a ‘get out of jail free’, comparing it to a moral hazard argument used in insurance referring to a newly insured party becoming reckless because compensation is available (Geoengineering, 2009).

Kim Stanly Robinson, a science fiction author and environmentalist praised geoengineering as it can ‘open up mental space to consider radical solutions. He believes we’re already doing it and ‘once we admit to it we begin to take control of it for good and we will be in a more honest relationship with the planet’ (CNN, 2010 September).

You can access and read the full paper by CLICKING on the image below:

climate adaptation platform

Sources:

Geoengineering the climate. Science, governance and uncertainty. (2009, September). The Royal Society [Summary]. Retrieved from https://royalsociety.org/~/media/Royal_Society_Content/policy/publications/2009/8693.pdf
Griffiths, J. (2019, September 10). Rich countries aren’t stopping climate change. CNN News. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2019/09/09/health/climate-change-geoengineering-asia-intl-hnk/index.html
Hollingsworth, J. (2019, August 16). Pacific Islands wanted more action on the climate crisis. CNN News. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2019/08/16/australia/australia-pacific-islands-climate-crisis-intl-hnk/index.html

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