Solar geoengineering research boosted despite climate change worries

Researchers in Africa are set to receive grants worth tens of thousands of dollars to study the impact of solar geoengineering.

This is despite concerns from environmental activists that solar radiation management could deepen climate injustices and carbon colonialism.

A form of solar geoengineering, known as solar radiation management (SRM), reflects a small amount of sunlight to help cool the planet and offset some of the warming caused by climate change. One way this is done is by injecting aerosols into the planet’s upper atmosphere, which dims the Sun.

Last month, The Degrees Initiative, which is an SRM evaluation organisation, doubled its research grants and awarded $900,000 to research teams in 14 developing countries.

Due to the highly controversial and risky methods that solar geoengineering involves, scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have addressed concerns that if implemented, SRM would ‘introduce a widespread range of new risks to people and ecosystems, which are not well understood.’

How is SRM evaluated in developing countries?

“The frequency at which power supply cuts are happening causes disruption to sample integrity in laboratories,” said Andreas Meyer, a biodiversity scientist at the University of Cape Town. The organisation says it neither promotes nor opposes the technology but “builds the capacity of developing countries to evaluate SRM.”

Scientists in Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda are among the countries to receive solar geoengineering funding. This comes on top of existing research projects funded by the NGO in Kenya, Benin, and South Africa.

Nana Ama Browne Klutse, an associate professor at the University of Ghana and an IPCC lead author, will research how SRM could affect temperature, humidity, and rainfall in southwestern Africa.

Moreover, in South Africa, Andreas Meyer, a biodiversity scientist at the African Climate & Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town, is leading a team studying whether solar geoengineering could offset species’ exposure to unsafe climates. The team will also look at SRM’s impact on the distribution of mosquitoes, which transmit diseases such as dengue, Zika, and Rift Valley fever.

Meyer explained: “Developing countries are on the front line of climate change. Therefore, they could be the biggest winners if SRM works well or the biggest losers if it goes wrong. This is why it is important for developing countries to do research not only on solar geoengineering but on all aspects of climate change. Having more experts will give developing countries a stronger voice in these conversations.”

“Solar geoengineering is a distraction from addressing the root causes of climate change”

Andy Parker, chief executive of the Degrees Initiative, claimed that Africa is becoming a research leader in this space.

“The conversation around SRM is increasing around the world because people are starting to ask what the options are for addressing climate change if reducing emissions proves insufficient,” he explained.

However, SRM can never supplement the urgent need to cut greenhouse gas emissions, nor is it a magical fix to climate change. Critics of the technology argue that the focus on SRM is a distraction from addressing the root causes of climate change and the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. Moreover, they say the technology offers polluters an avenue to avoid taking climate action.

Chukwumerije Okereke, director of the Centre for Climate Change and Development in Nigeria and a visiting professor in environment and development at the University of Reading, opposes the use of solar geoengineering because of the associated risks and lack of governance over the technology.

He advised against normalising research on SRM, which may present the technology as a next step to addressing global warming and lead to experiments on the continent. “I am sceptical that it will benefit Africa,” he warned.

Nnimmo Bassey, an environmental activist and director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation think tank, also opposes solar geoengineering research. He commented: “Experiments can only be useful if conducted at planetary scale. Experimenting at that scale is utterly unacceptable. Climate engineering presents unique risks for vulnerable regions and will definitely deepen climate injustices and carbon colonialism.”

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