Sci­en­tists search for ways to guard against the sun

The New Zealand Herald - - WORLD -

Alis­ter Doyle

Sci­en­tists in de­vel­op­ing na­tions plan to step up re­search into dim­ming sun­shine to curb cli­mate change, hop­ing to judge if a man­made chem­i­cal sun­shade would be less risky than a harm­ful rise in global tem­per­a­tures.

Re­search into “so­lar geo­engi­neer­ing”, which would mimic big vol­canic erup­tions that can cool the Earth by mask­ing the sun with a veil of ash, is now dom­i­nated by rich na­tions and uni­ver­si­ties such as Har­vard and Ox­ford.

Twelve schol­ars, from coun­tries in­clud­ing Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Ja­maica and Thai­land, wrote in the jour­nal yes­ter­day that the poor were most vul­ner­a­ble to global warm­ing and should be more in­volved.

“De­vel­op­ing coun­tries must lead on so­lar geo-engi­neer­ing re­search,” they wrote in a com­men­tary.

“The over­all idea [of so­lar geo­engi­neer­ing] is pretty crazy but it is grad­u­ally tak­ing root in the world of re­search,” lead au­thor Atiq Rah­man, head of the Bangladesh Cen­tre for Ad­vanced Stud­ies, told Reuters.

The so­lar geo-engi­neer­ing stud­ies would be helped by a new US$400,000 ($548,760) fund from the Open Phi­lan­thropy Project, a foun­da­tion backed by Dustin Moskovitz, a co-founder of Face­book, and his wife, Cari Tuna, they wrote.

The fund could help sci­en­tists in de­vel­op­ing na­tions study re­gional im­pacts of so­lar geo-engi­neer­ing such as on droughts, floods or mon­soons, said Andy Parker, a co-au­thor and project di­rec­tor of the So­lar Ra­di­a­tion Man­age­ment Gov­er­nance Ini­tia­tive.

Rah­man said the aca­demics were not tak­ing sides about whether geo­engi­neer­ing would work.

Among pro­posed ideas, planes might spray clouds of re­flec­tive sul­fur par­ti­cles high in the Earth’s at­mos­phere.

“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,” they wrote.

A United Na­tions panel of cli­mate ex­perts, in a leaked draft of a re­port about global warm­ing due for pub­li­ca­tion in Oc­to­ber, is scep­ti­cal about so­lar geo-engi­neer­ing, say­ing it may be “eco­nom­i­cally, so­cially and in­sti­tu­tion­ally in­fea­si­ble”.

The draft, ob­tained by Reuters, says that among the risks, it might dis­rupt weather pat­terns, could be hard to stop once started, and might dis­cour­age coun­tries from mak­ing a promised switch from fos­sil fu­els to cleaner en­er­gies.

Still, Rah­man said, most de­vel­oped na­tions had “abysmally failed” so far in their pledges to cut green­house gas emis­sions, mak­ing rad­i­cal op­tions to limit warm­ing more at­trac­tive.

The world is set for a warm­ing of 3C or more above pre-in­dus­trial times, he said, far above a goal of keep­ing a rise in tem­per­a­tures “well be­low” 2C un­der the 2015 Paris Agree­ment among al­most 200 na­tions.

Pic­ture / AP

De­vel­op­ing na­tions, in­clud­ing Cam­bo­dia, are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to global warm­ing.

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