Climate engineering: Global climate meet sparks tension, debate between nations

Switzerland proposed a resolution on geoengineering governance at UNEA-4 earlier this year.

The climate has been out of whack in recent years, with the threat of extreme weather events, warming temperatures and oceans, acidification and sea-level rise only growing with every passing year. Some of the most promising solutions to cope with/rectify climate change impacts (particularly temperature rise) fall under "climate engineering" and "geoengineering", in which alterations and changes are made to the natural cycles of the Earth to minimise the effects of climate change and global warming artificially.

The most dangerous aspect of using climate engineering is the many differences between (and capacity of) participating countries and their stand(s) on planet-altering technologies.  

Geoengineering. Image: University of Utrecht

Geoengineering. Image: University of Utrecht

Earlier this year, Switzerland proposed a resolution on geoengineering governance at the fourth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-4). From the debate that followed, it was evident that this "third rail" of climate change would no doubt be influenced heavily by politics and power.

In a recent commentary published in Nature Geoscience, co-authors Sikina Jinnah and Simon Nicholson of American University describe the politics and players who appear to be shaping the discussion. Their analysis, "The Hidden Politics of Climate Engineering," concludes with a call for transparency to help resolve questions of governance and "ensure that the world has the tools to manage these potent technologies and practices if and when decisions are ever taken to use them."

While the US may be leading in both counts — emissions and climate inaction — all countries seem to be falling short. With a negligible amount of work on climate engineering in developing nations and no collaborations currently in place between developed and developing nations, there is no scope for the technology to grow without the right policies to encourage it.

"Twenty years ago, climate engineering seemed far-fetched — if not crazy — but these ideas are being taken more seriously today in the wake of widespread governmental failure to adequately reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Jinnah. The Swiss proposal underscored the challenge of establishing governance for two of the dominant geoengineering strategies so far — solar radiation management (SRM) and carbon dioxide removal (CDR), simultaneously — both having very different potential risks.

"As a researcher, I think this debate was an incredibly important step forward, because you can't study the politics of this issue without data, which in this case is countries articulating their positions on this controversial issue," Jinnah said. Research is needed so we can better understand the options we have, the report states. "I'd rather not live in a world that thinks about solar radiation management, but unfortunately that's not our reality."

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