Small Island nations are at the forefront of the climate crisis. Developing countries in the Pacific Islands like Tonga, Fiji, and Tuvalu are seemingly helpless to protect themselves against extreme weather conditions.
During the Pacific Islands forum among the 16 Pacific Island members, Australia and New Zealand, the Pacific Islands 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 was thwarted by the Australian Prime Minister, a strong supporter of the coal industry. According to the Minerals Council of Australia, coal is one of Australia’s biggest industries and the 2nd largest export (CNN, 2019 Aug).
Although 65% of Australians believe in climate change, the reality is that they are not slowing down on the use of fossil fuels (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).
Suppose rich countries aren’t doing enough to combat climate change while their small island neighbours are sinking and their people are 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 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 of it is ‘something out of science fiction, the CNN article says.
Geoengineering the Climate explains:
- Geoengineering has two primary methods: Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) 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 it back into space. According to a paper, it attempts to offset the effects of greenhouse gas concentration by making the earth absorb less solar radiation.
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 treat the root cause of the problem, which is reducing greenhouse gas emissions but is 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 reduces 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 Royal Society paper says that this use has yet to be tested at an affordable cost.
Although SRM applications are relatively cheap and can produce the desired effects like lowering the global temperatures within a few years after its application, risks such as its impacts on the delicate balance between increased greenhouse gas emissions and reduced solar radiation, the paper say. And it would be doubtful for this balance to be sustainable over long periods.
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 in droughts in Africa and Asia, damage to the ozone layer, continued ocean acidification, impacts on the ecosystems, and risk, of human error, among the many other risks mentioned in the paper.
Aside from its feasibility issues, there are also ethical questions about the applications of Geoengineering.
According to the Royal Society paper, it may weaken conventional mitigation efforts or be 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:
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