Switzerland asks UN to explore possibility of solar geoengineering | Geoengineering

Switzerland has launched a global debate over whether the “risks, benefits and uncertainties” of dwindling sunlight should be studied by a United Nations panel of experts.

He proposes that the world body gather information on ongoing research into solar geoengineering and set up an advisory group that could suggest future options for the untested and controversial approach to reducing global warming, which would have implications for food supply, biodiversity and the planet. inequalities and security.

The Swiss proposal, submitted to the United Nations Environment Assembly which begins next week in Nairobi, focuses on solar radiation modification (SRM). This is a technique that aims to mimic the effect of a large volcanic eruption by filling the atmosphere with sulfur dioxide particles that reflect some of the sun’s heat and light back into space.

Supporters of the proposal, including the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), argue that the research is needed to provide multilateral oversight of emerging technologies with the potential to change the planet, which could otherwise be developed and tested in a manner isolated by powerful governments or billionaire individuals.

Critics argue, however, that such a debate would threaten the current de facto ban on geoengineering and lead down a “slippery slope” toward legitimization, mainstreaming, and eventual deployment.

Felix Wertli, the Swiss ambassador for the environment, said his country’s aim in submitting the proposal was to ensure that all governments and relevant stakeholders “are informed about SRM technologies, in particular the possible risks and cross-border effects. He said the intention was not to promote or enable solar geoengineering but to inform governments, particularly those in developing countries, of what is happening.

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen highlighted the importance of a “global conversation on SRM” in her opening address to delegates at a preliminary meeting in Nairobi. She and her colleagues emphasized that this was a precautionary measure rather than an endorsement of the technology.

But however well-intentioned this proposal may be, some environmental groups are concerned about the direction in which it is heading. “There is a real risk that mandating UNEP to write a report and establish an expert group on SRM could undermine the existing de facto moratorium on geoengineering and inadvertently provide legitimacy to delay actions aimed at to phase out fossil fuels,” said Mary Church of the Center for International Environmental Law (SKY). “There are certain areas that the international community has rightly decided to ban, such as eugenics, human cloning and chemical weapons. Solar geoengineering is on that list and needs to join it quickly, before seemingly innocuous conversations about governance lead us down a very slippery slope toward deployment.

Switzerland last proposed scrutiny of geoengineering at the UN Environment Assembly in 2019, but the topic was blocked by the United States and Saudi Arabia. Sources said this was because they wanted to conduct research into these technologies unhindered by international oversight or regulations.

Since then, the debate over sun dimming research has intensified and broadened. In the past, this was an area largely funded by the fossil fuel industry. But in recent years, more actors have become involved, notably philanthropists, financiers and high-tech entrepreneurs, motivated by potential lucrative rewards and growing concern about climate dangers. More and more money is flowing into the sector, particularly in the United States, where Bill Gates is one of the supporters of Harvard Solar Geoengineering Research Programand groups such as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Environmental Defense FundTHE Union of Concerned Scientistsand the Natural Resources Defense Council expressed support for continued studies of solar light reflection technologies. The sector sometimes displays a Wild West spirit, of inventing the rules as they go along and profiteering, particularly evident in American start-ups. Make sunsetswhich already sells “cooling credits” and claims to have carried out outdoor tests in Mexico.

The Mexican government subsequently prohibits such experiments on its territory. The European Parliament has underlined the need for restrictive governance and the application of the precautionary principle in a context statement last year on solar geoengineering.

In 2022, more than 400 scientists signed a call for a solar geoengineering non-use agreement which stipulated no public funding, no deployment, no patents, no experience and no support in international forums.

In scientific forums, SRM is a growing topic of concern. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted critical knowledge gaps and risks related to SRM in its Sixth Assessment Report. Last January, the Montreal Protocol reported for the first time the damage that the SRM technique known as stratospheric aerosol injection could cause to the ozone layer.

Last year, the United Nations Environment Program was criticized for publishing a paper on solar geoengineering, An atmosphere, which included contributions from supporters and opponents of SRM and recommendations for more research, including outdoor experiments. CIEL said this helped with the deployment of the technology.

UNEP’s chief scientist, Dr Andrea Hinwood, said such accusations were unfair because her organization was not advocating for such technologies and stressed that the priority was to reduce emissions.

“At the same time, we don’t want to find ourselves in a position where, a few months or even a few years later, we’re caught off guard and playing catch-up,” she said. “I know people think this potentially creates a space where these technologies can be supported, but I also think not discussing them is more problematic.”

In Nairobi, the fate of the Swiss proposal is at stake. Senegal, which was initially co-sponsor, withdrew. Many other countries, including once again the United States and Saudi Arabia, have expressed doubts. African delegates stressed the uselessness. But Wertli believes the mood is more positive than in 2019. “This time we see that people are ready to discuss because the debate has progressed,” he said. “During the opening debate, there was general agreement that more research and information was needed. This is new and shows that the resolution meets a need.

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