Solar Geoengineering Research Boosted Despite Concerns


African researchers will receive grants worth tens of thousands of dollars to study the impact of solar geoengineering despite concerns from environmental activists that solar radiation management could deepen climate injustices and carbon colonialism.

The climate engineering technology, known as solar radiation management (SRM), aims to reflect a small amount of sunlight to help cool the planet and offset some of the warming caused by climate change. This could be done by injecting aerosols into the upper atmosphere to dim the sun. 

The technology is highly controversial and risky. Scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have warned that, if implemented, SRM would “introduce a widespread range of new risks to people and ecosystems, which are not well understood”. 

In February, the Degrees Initiative, an SRM evaluation organisation, doubled its research grants and awarded US$900,000 to research teams in 14 developing countries, half of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The organisation says it neither promotes nor opposes the technology but “builds the capacity of developing countries to evaluate SRM”. 

Scientists in Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda are among the recipients. This comes on top of existing research projects funded by the NGO in Ivory Coast, Kenya as well as Benin and South Africa. 

The Degrees Initiative said the grantees were free to define their own research and the funding selection was based on an independent peer review process. 

Nana Ama Browne Klutse, an associate professor at the University of Ghana and an IPCC lead author, will research how SRM could affect temperature, humidity and rainfall in southern western Africa. 

In South Africa, Andreas Meyer, a biodiversity scientist at the African Climate & Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town, is leading a team studying whether SRM could offset species’ exposure to unsafe climates. The team will also look at SRM’s impact on the distribution of mosquitoes, which transmit diseases such as dengue, Zika, and Rift Valley fever. 

“Developing countries are on the front line of climate change. Therefore, they could be the biggest winners if SRM works well or the biggest losers if it goes wrong,” Meyer told SciDev.Net

“This is why it is important for developing countries to do research not only on SRM but on all aspects of climate change. Having more experts will give developing countries a stronger voice in the SRM conversations.” 

Andy Parker, chief executive of the Degrees Initiative, said Africa was becoming a “research leader in this space”. 

“The conversation around SRM is increasing around the world because people are starting to ask what the options are for addressing climate change if reducing emissions proves insufficient,” he told SciDev.Net.

However, SRM can never supplement the urgent need to cut greenhouse gas emissions, nor is it a magical fix to climate change, Parker added. 

Critics of the technology argue the focus on SRM is a distraction from addressing the root causes of climate change and the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. They say the technology offers polluters an avenue to avoid taking climate action. 

Chukwumerije Okereke, director of the Centre for Climate Change and Development in Nigeria and a visiting professor in environment and development at the University of Reading, in the UK, opposes the use of SRM because of the associated risks and lack of governance over the technology. 

He warned against “normalising research” on SRM which may present the technology as a next step to addressing global warming and lead to experiments on the continent. “I am sceptical that it will benefit Africa,” he said. 

Nnimmo Bassey, an environmental activist and director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation think tank, agreed that SRM research is “problematic”. “[Experiments] can only be useful if conducted at planetary scale,” he said, adding: “Experimenting at that scale is utterly unacceptable. Climate engineering presents unique risks for vulnerable regions and will definitely deepen climate injustices and carbon colonialism.” 

Chloé Farand writes for

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

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