Is Geoengineering the answer to climate change?
Following the G20 Summit, French President Emmanuel Macron plans to host another climate summit in December and will again attempt to push Trump to join. Macron was quoted by the Washington Post as saying: “Our world has never been so divided.” His words couldn’t be truer: the USA stood alone on climate change, whereas the 19 other members agreed to push ahead with the Paris Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
So the pressure is now on for the other member countries if we are to save the planet from the worst effects of climate change. We need to get our greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2070. And by 2100 all greenhouse gas emissions – including methane, nitrous oxide and ozone, as well as CO2 – must also fall to zero, according to the United Nationals Environment Programme (Unep) report or else the world will face what Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientists have described as “severe, widespread and irreversible” effects from climate change.
But the changes take time and the pressure is on. Is there something that can be done on a larger scale with improved immediacy and effect?
Geoengineering is the buzzword of the moment – the focused, large-scale manipulation of the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change and sort out the damage.
Geoengineering can be split into two categories, Solar Radiation Management (SRM) or Solar Geoengineering, where a portion of the sun’s energy is reflected back into space to counteract the rise in temperature caused by high levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which absorb energy and raise temperatures, and Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) or Carbon Geoengineering.
Some of the Geoengineering techniques being suggested for use in each of these two categories include:-
- Albedo enhancement: Increasing the reflectiveness of clouds or the land surface so that more of the Sun’s heat is reflected back into space.
- Stratospheric aerosols: Introduction of small, reflective particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect some sunlight before it reaches the earth’s surface.
And proposed techniques for Carbon Geoengineering include:-
- Ambient Air Capture: Building large machines that can remove carbon dioxide directly from ambient air and store it elsewhere
- Ocean Fertilisation: Adding nutrients to the ocean in certain localities to increase primary production which draws down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
These may sound like very interesting approaches with ‘potential’, but showing potential and assurance of guaranteed and desired outcome, are two very different things. So what looks like the silver bullet answer to global warming and climate change at first, might instead become Russian roulette and is best not considered as a be-all-and-end all solution. For Geoengineering to have a real hope of working globally, unilateral cooperation is essential and if the G20 Summit is anything to go by, there are sure to be strays from the majority herd.
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