Global efforts to tackle climate change are currently insufficient, meaning it is time to explore technologies to reflect sunlight hitting the Earth back into space, a UN report has said.
With efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions “not on track to meet the 1.5°C Paris Agreement goal”, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said: “Climate change continues to worsen, with some of its impacts already irreversible.”
The UNEP report looked at Solar Radiation Modification (SRM) technologies, which aim to cool the Earth rapidly by reflecting a small percentage of sunlight back into space.
It concluded that while the use of such technology was not recommended at this time, “this view may change should climate action remain insufficient”.
It comes as more than 60 scientists signed an open letter calling for further research into the strategy, which is sometimes referred to as “solar geoengineering”.
The UNEP report said SRM “is the only option that could cool the planet within years” but would need to be maintained for “several decades to centuries” at a cost of tens of billions of dollars a year per 1C cooling.
Some scientists think the technology could be developed within 10 years.
However, UNEP said it “requires far more research into its risks and benefits before any consideration for potential deployment”.
‘Critical unresolved issues’
It warned there are currently “critical unresolved issues overall” including “significant uncertainties on the social and environmental impacts of SRM, and its safety and viability”.
The impacts of SRM on low and middle-income countries are “understudied”, it said, “even though these countries are often on the frontlines of climate change and would face the potential impacts of SRM technologies should they be deployed”.
“Climate change is taking the world into uncharted lands, and the search is on for all viable solutions,” said Andrea Hinwood, UNEP chief scientist.
“However, all new technologies must be clearly understood, and potential risks or impacts identified before being put into use.
“The private sector and regulators need to address the basic uncertainties surrounding these technologies, answer some fundamental questions about safety and employ the precautionary principle before SRM can even be contemplated.”
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‘No substitute’ for reducing greenhouse gas emissions
The UNEP said the technology “is no substitute for a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, which must remain the global priority”.
Ms Hinwood added: “There are no shortcuts or substitutes for slashing harmful emissions and there is no better alternative for our peace, health and wellbeing than a shift to a circular economy, in harmony with nature.”
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