Global efforts to tackle climate change are not enough, a United Nations report says, meaning now is the time to explore technologies that bounce sunlight hitting Earth back into space.
With efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions “falling short of the 1.5°C Paris Agreement target”, “climate change continues to worsen, with some impacts already irreversible,” the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) said.
The UNEP report examines solar radiation regulation (SRM) technology, which aims to rapidly cool the planet by reflecting a fraction of sunlight back into space.
It concluded that while such technologies are not currently recommended, “this view may change if climate action remains insufficient”.
More than 60 scientists have signed an open letter calling for further research into the strategy, sometimes called “solar geoengineering.”
The United Nations Environment Program report said that SRM “is the only option that can cool the planet within a few years” but that it would need to be maintained “for decades to centuries” and would cost tens of billions of dollars per 1C of cooling each year.
Some scientists believe the technology could be developed within 10 years.
However, the United Nations Environment Program said “more research is needed on the risks and benefits of any potential deployment before it can be considered”.
“Key Unresolved Issues”
It warns that there are “generally unresolved key questions”, including “major uncertainties about the social and environmental impacts of SRM and its safety and feasibility”.
The impact of SRM on low- and middle-income countries is “understudied”, it said, “although these countries are often at the forefront of climate change, they would face the potential impact of SRM technology if deployed”.
“Climate change is taking the world into uncharted territory, and people are searching for all possible solutions,” said UNEP Chief Scientist Andrea Hinwood.
“However, all new technologies must be clearly understood and potential risks or impacts identified before they are put into use.
“The private sector and regulators need to address the fundamental uncertainties surrounding these technologies, answer some fundamental questions about safety, and apply the precautionary principle before considering SRM.”
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‘Irreplaceable’ for reducing greenhouse gas emissions
The UN Environment Program said the technology “is no substitute for rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which must remain a global priority”.
Ms Hinwood added: “There are no shortcuts or alternatives to reducing harmful emissions, and there is no better option for our peace, health and wellbeing than moving to a circular economy that works in harmony with nature.”