Poor country scientists to get help to study geoengineering impacts

With most geoengineering research happening in wealthy countries, fund aims to help developing nations understand how hacking the climate could affect them

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A new fund has been launched to help poor countries better understand how geoengineering climate fixes could affect them.

The scheme aims to make sure the world’s poor have an informed voice in the debate over one of the most controversial solutions mooted for global warming.

Asfawossen Kassaye, a professor of earth sciences at Addis Ababa University, has been involved in Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (SRMGI) workshops and consultations since 2012. “We don’t know if [solar geoengineering] is good or bad for us,” he told Climate Home. “We really want to investigate.”

Andy Parker, project director at SRMGI, which is offering the grants, estimates tens of millions of dollars have been spent on solar geoengineering research in the past decade, in China and a handful of developed countries.

The Decimals fund will allow developing country scientists to re-analyse modelling data with their regional interests in mind. This might be rainfall patterns in Africa, monsoon intensity in South Asia and hurricane risk in the Caribbean, for example.

“Developing countries are concerned who will make decisions about this,” Parker told Climate Home. “Before research really gallops away in the global north, they need to think about what it means for them.”

Solar geoengineering is a theoretical way to limit global warming by reflecting more of the sun’s rays back into space. This might involve injecting aerosols into the stratosphere to mimic the effect of volcanic eruptions, or squirting seawater into clouds over the ocean to make them more reflective.

Report: US opens door for climate geoengineering research

Proponents say it is worth exploring this possibility because reductions to greenhouse gas emissions might not be enough to prevent dangerous climate change.

Harvard climatologist David Keith is preparing to conduct the first small-scale outdoor trials of stratospheric aerosol injection. He argues it is important to know whether or not this is feasible as a way to stabilise temperatures.

However, artificially cooling the atmosphere would have a range of effects on weather patterns, some of which might be detrimental to particular regions or populations. There are major uncertainties.

SRMGI is offering $400,000-450,000 to support between four and seven research projects through the Decimals fund. A request for proposals is due to be issued later in 2017, with beneficiaries expected to report their findings in 2-3 years.

“The problem with the existing models is they tell you about the global average,” said Kassaye, who intends to apply for a research grant. “What is important for farmers in my country [Ethiopia], for example, is not the global average temperature, it is whether it is going to rain this summer.”

Ethiopian farmers are already dealing with increased drought risk as a result of global warming, he added. “We are very vulnerable to climate change and we will be very vulnerable if [geoengineering] is going to happen.”

As well as scientific questions, solar geoengineering raises a number of political and governance concerns. A technologically advanced nation could act unilaterally in a way that disrupts weather patterns elsewhere.

Read more on: Climate Science