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Solar Geoengineering to counter global warming

GS Paper 3

 Syllabus: Environment and Conservation/ Science and Technology- Developments and their Applications and Effects in Everyday Life.

  

Source: DTE

 Context: The US is eyeing a controversial tool to counter global warming: Solar geoengineering.

 

What is Solar geoengineering?

  • Solar geoengineering, also referred to as solar radiation management (SRM) describes a set of proposed approaches to reflect sunlight (back to space) to rapidly cool the Earth.
  • Within solar geoengineering, researchers are considering two main approaches.

  

Different SRM methods:

  • Stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI): It involves injecting tiny reflecting particles, known as aerosols, into the upper atmosphere to cool the planet.
  • Marine cloud brightening (MCB): It would use sea salt to stimulate cloud formation over the ocean, which would also help reflect sunlight in the region.

  

Why is solar geoengineering being considered?

  • The Paris Agreement’s target requires limiting global temperature increase well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.
  • For this, nations need to bring net global CO2 emissions to zero by no later than mid-century.
  • Despite these ambitious goals, solar geoengineering is being considered to prepare for the possibility that global efforts may fall short.

 

The USA’s plan:

  • The White House stated that public or private actors could carry out activities such as injecting aerosols and MCB to reflect more sunlight into space.
  • It called for research to enable better-informed decisions about the potential risks and benefits of the tool as part of its climate policy, in addition to mitigation and adaptation.
  • This comes amid concerns raised by the experts over the high environmental (changes in precipitation patterns, ozone amounts, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, etc), social, and geopolitical risks that come with SRM.

 

Solar geoengineering risks:

  • Moral hazard: The danger is that the technology will become an excuse to slow emissions reductions and stop moving toward a low-carbon economy.
  • Little is known about its impacts: Research to scope the risks and potential of solar geoengineering has mostly been conducted through computer-based modelling and natural observations (volcanic eruption).

  

Way ahead: Because solar geoengineering has global implications, its consideration as a climate response requires

  • Effective international governance/ Mechanisms for oversight.
  • Outdoor experimentation and funding for experiments should come only from governments.
  • Ways to involve the public in decision-making.

  

Conclusion:

  • Given the ethical and environmental risks these activities can present, atmospheric experiments to assess these technologies deserve timely public scrutiny and debate.
  • Even as researchers assess the potential feasibility and effectiveness of geoengineering approaches, mitigation and adaptation must remain our first-line solutions.

 

Insta Links:

Cooling the Earth down

 

Mains Links:

What is solar Geoengineering? Discuss the benefits and shortcomings linked with this technology.