Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Even with aggressive global efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, scientists cannot rule out the possibility of rapid changes in the climate system, with potentially catastrophic consequences for society and the environment. The risk of such “climate emergencies” increases with higher CO2 emissions, emphasizing the urgency of global mitigation as the priority response to climate change.

In a recent report from The Novim Group, CIGI Fellow Jason Blackstock and an international team of scientists examine whether large-scale “geoengineering” could provide a rapid, if temporary, insurance response to avert the most severe consequences of climate change. The contributors conclude that it might be possible, but significantly more scientific research is required.

The authors focus their scientific review and evaluation on one specific geoengineering proposal: injecting tiny particles into the stratosphere, where they would reflect sunlight back into space and thus cool the globe. The proposed solution would have an effect akin to that caused by the sulfur particles released by volcanic eruptions.

According to the report, while it appears technically feasible to produce rapid global cooling using such a technique, there is little understanding about what the regional impacts and risks might be, or what climate change impacts this “cooling” may limit or avert. Nor are the socio-economic or political implications associated with this kind of climate intervention understood or sufficiently analyzed.  The report highlights the need for enhanced governance surrounding geoengineering, an area of research Dr. Blackstock is pursuing at CIGI.

Dr. Steven E. Koonin, former provost at Caltech and the current under secretary of science at the US Department of Energy, served as one of the lead authors and study group convener for the project prior to joining the Obama administration. Dr. Blackstock is the other lead author. He is a postdoctoral research scholar with the Risk and Vulnerability Program at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria. At IIASA, his research focuses on evaluating the scientific (climatic), political and economic implications of geoengineering.

Click here to read the full report.

Novim, based in Santa Barbara, California, is a non-profit scientific corporation that convenes small collaborative groups of the world’s leading experts to identify and analyze scientific and technological issues of global importance.

IIASA is an international scientific institute that conducts research into the critical twenty-first century challenges of global environmental, economic, technological and social change. Its findings provide valuable options to policy makers to shape the future of our changing world. IIASA is independent and funded by scientific institutions in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe.