Climate change: Geoengineering turns mainstream
Peter Griffin is a freelance science and technology writer. He was the founding director of the Science Media Centre and founding editor of Sciblogs.co.nz OPINION: As the window we have to limit global warming to 1.5C starts to close, many scientists and politicians are turning their attention to climate overshoot. They want to better understand the implications of shooting past the emissions reduction targets countries set themselves at the Glasgow climate conference. We must cut global emissions by 43% by 2030 compared to 2019 levels, just to have a shot at staying within the 1.5C warming threshold. Technically, we could do it. But it is a mammoth task. The realists assume we wont get our act together in time and are looking at Plan B. They include a group of eminent global leaders, former presidents and prime ministers among them, who have formed the Climate Overshoot Commission to examine what well need to do to adapt to 2C or more of warming. READ MORE: * COP26 Climate change conference a mixed bag * Planetary healthcheck delivers 'unprecedented', 'terrifying' picture * Earth may temporarily pass dangerous 1.5C warming limit by 2024, major new report says * What does 'dangerous' climate change really mean? They are also looking at the potential for geoengineering schemes to act as a technical fix to reduce global temperatures. Solar geoengineering, which can involve seeding clouds or spreading sulphur particles in the atmosphere to reflect sunlight back to space, is considered the most promising method. But theres hardly any solid research examining whether it would work and what the risks and side effects could be. Geoengineering is considered difficult and scary, so we havent funded large studies to explore whether it's a realistic option. That is starting to change. All of the ways by which we can alleviate this risk [of climate overshoot] must be evaluated, Pascal Lamy, the former head of the World Trade Organisation and a member of the Climate Overshoot Commission, told the Guardian last month. I think a global effort on geoengineering could work. Scientists are coming to the same conclusion, partly in fear that a country, hit by the ravages of climate change, will go it alone in attempting to engineer the climate. The American Geological Union last week said it would form an ethical framework to guide the research and possible deployment of climate change intervention measures. It wants to work with global bodies to develop some sort of governance overseeing geoengineering experiments and the use of the technology. Weve done similar for human cloning and stem cell research. It doesnt give geoengineering the green light. In fact, it may lead to a moratorium on geoengineering schemes the research suggests are too risky. But at least we are now taking it seriously. Some climate scientists argue that by doing so, we water down the urgent case for cutting emissions. But theres nothing to stop us from pursuing deep cuts now while we also research whether geoengineering has legs. Good science takes years to develop, the environment and sustainability professor and author Holly Jean Buck points out . If we put off research until the 2030s, we could find ourselves in a world thats made some uneven progress on the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions but not enough, with temperatures still headed towards 3C of warming. Thats not an unrealistic scenario. I want the worlds best minds focused on all the options we have to deal with it.