Solar Radiation Modification: As the impacts of climate change continue to intensify, governments, civil societies and activists all over the world are exploring options to prevent global temperature rise from exceeding 1.5°C. Among other options, Solar Radiation Modification (SRM) is also being suggested to be adopted as a measure to control the rise in temperature. The technology involves reflecting some of the sun’s rays back into space to reduce the amount of solar radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface.
While the concept of SRM is not new, there is growing interest in its potential to mitigate climate change. However, the risks and benefits of SRM are poorly understood, and governance frameworks for its implementation are weak or non-existent.
In a candid chat with Asia News Makers, Janos Pasztor, Executive Director of New York-based Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative talked about the current status and developments in SRM research, intergovernmental processes, and non-governmental engagement relating to SRM and its governance globally.
Recent developments in the SRM space
According to Janos Pasztor, countries not just in South Asia, but across the globe have initiated the discussion on SRM. He told how some private sector actors have begun to engage around SRM, and in January 2023, a US-based company began selling “cooling credits” to fund small-scale stratospheric aerosol injection interventions. However, initial deployment attempts in Mexico led to the Mexican government announcing its intention to block such activities, and the company consequently relocated and reported it had made three launches from the US in February 2023.
Meanwhile, outdoor marine cloud brightening experiments are underway in Australia, while planned stratospheric aerosol injection-related experiments were recently cancelled in the US and Sweden, following objections from indigenous people and environmental groups. Soon, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) plans stratospheric research flights over the Arctic to assess better, among other things, the potential costs and benefits of SRM climate intervention.
UNEP’s independent review advocates governance in SRM
In February 2023, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published an independent review on SRM research and deployment. The review concluded on the need for robust scientific assessment, development of governance frameworks, and promotion of globally inclusive discussions. This review highlights the growing concern about the risk of ungoverned SRM deployment.
Governance challenges related to adopting SRM
Pasztor said the governance challenges related to SRM are significant, and in developing countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, where the Governments have other priorities, these challenges multiply. He also said many governments are hesitant to pursue SRM, given the lack of understanding of its potential risks and benefits. Moreover, the potential for unequal distribution of the benefits and risks of SRM could lead to conflicts between nations. There are also concerns about the potential for SRM to create unintended consequences, such as changes in regional climate patterns, disruptions to ecosystems, and impacts on public health.
The need for urgent global action on SRM Governance
According to Janos Pasztor, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a pressing need for urgent global action to ensure the responsible development and deployment of SRM technologies. He said, while the potential theoretical benefits of SRM may be significant, the risks and uncertainties associated with these technologies are also substantial. The governance frameworks currently in place are inadequate to manage these risks effectively.
Furthermore, the potential for SRM technologies to exacerbate existing inequalities and exacerbate geopolitical tensions is a cause for concern, particularly given the lack of robust governance frameworks currently in place to manage these risks.
Given the potential implications of uncontrolled or poorly governed SRM deployment, it is essential that the international community works together to establish effective governance frameworks and mechanisms for the responsible development and deployment of these technologies, he said.
While solar radiation modification (SRM) is emerging as a potential emergency option for mitigating the impacts of climate change, it is clear that the risks and uncertainties associated with these technologies are substantial, and that the governance frameworks currently in place are inadequate to manage these risks effectively.
As such, it is essential that the international community works together to establish effective governance frameworks and mechanisms for the responsible development and deployment of SRM technologies to ensure that these technologies are developed and deployed in a safe, equitable manner, and sustainable.