A new study by Harvard, MIT and Princeton states that the release of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to cool the climate would be safe only if the gas injections are limited to lower cooling temperatures of half of those needed to stop global warming. About two weeks later, the United States and Saudi Arabia blocked a UN proposal to commission new research on emerging technology – called geoengineering – an initiative that both proponents and opponents of technology consider blatant protection of the fossil fuel industry at risk. of the world.
What is geoengineering?
Geoengineering is a term used to refer to a set of technologies that artificially alter the Earth's climate. Other climate engineering technologies include the fertilization of the oceans, the elimination of carbon dioxide, the lightening of marine clouds, the thinning of cirrus and the modification from the ground albedo. These strategies are extremely controversial both because of the unprecedented and unknown global risks, but also for ethical reasons as to how humans should intervene in the Earth's climate.
The concept of injecting sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere mimics the gases naturally released by volcanoes. The gases block the sun's rays and cool the climate of the Earth. Millions of tons of cooling aerosols should be released to limit temperatures to recommended values of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
Related: Man-induced climate change is now at the scientific level, called "Five sigma"
What are the risks?
Most geoengineering technologies have not been deployed in large-scale experiments and the risks can only be predicted with computer modeling. Previous studies have concluded that the injection of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere can alter rain and thunderstorm regimes and reduce the availability of water. There is also concern that geo-engineering will have a disproportionate impact on some regions, such as the increasing number of cyclones in Asia and drought in Africa.
What does the new study reveal?
The Harvard study used computer simulation to reach a radical new conclusion: blocking only half of the temperature increase would not present the typical risks associated with the injection of carbon dioxide. sulfur. In fact, their study funded by a university revealed that only 0.4% of the planet could suffer a degradation of its climate.
Alan Robock, professor of geophysics at Rutgers University, warned the Guardian that the Harvard study looked at only a few of the potential consequences. Robock's own study lists 27 reasons against geoengineering, including its annual price of billions of dollars, disruption of stratospheric chemistry, ice formation, and increased UV exposure, as well as ethical issues about the right to see people.
US and Saudi Arabia block proposal to continue research
In the United States, Saudi Arabia and Brazil, the United States rejected Switzerland's proposal to commission new geoengineering research. The proposal provided for the creation of a committee of experts to oversee research in geoengineering and governance. Given the potential benefits of technology and risks globally, most countries have agreed that the United States should oversee research and establish rules for future deployment.
"I think governance is an extremely vital component of geoengineering," said Shuchi Talati of the Union of Concerned Scientists at E & E News. "Even if you are opposed to geo-engineering, you need a governance mechanism to be able to enforce it."
The United States and Saudi Arabia are two of the largest oil-producing countries in the world. They rejected the proposal on the wording that geo-engineering should not be considered as an alternative to mitigation. In other words, they opposed the idea that reducing carbon emissions should always be the priority.
The United States is also a pioneer in geoengineering research and has resisted any ability to independently implement their discoveries instead of reducing their carbon emissions.
At present, no international law explicitly prohibits countries from deploying large-scale injections of sulfur dioxide, despite profound global impacts.
Controversy, ethics and deadlock
Many ecologists argue that geoengineering does not address the causes of global warming – carbon emissions – and that once the injected gases dissipate, they will have to be re-injected each year. Many also argue that even investment in research sends the message that countries may not be required to meet the emission reduction commitments set in the Paris Agreement, as an alternative could to be approved.
Current forecasts show that even if countries meet their ambitious commitments, the planet will reach a catastrophic warming of 3 degrees.
"It seems to me incoherent to say, on the one hand, that global warming is the biggest problem facing humanity, and then to say, on the other hand, but we should not even be doing research. [solar radiation management] because that can be risky, "Daniel Bodansky, an expert on international climate agreements at the University of Arizona, told E & E News. "Either climate change is the biggest problem we face, or it is not. And if it is, then everything is on the bridge. "
Via the caretaker
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