CLIMATEWIRE | A panel of climate experts convened by the United Nations is calling for international regulations to be extended into the stratosphere.
The recommendation, detailed in a report released Monday, it could help manage risks associated with spraying sunlight-reflecting aerosols dozens of miles above Earth’s surface. Such stratospheric aerosol injection is largely untested and potentially harmful, but it is attracting attention as an emergency measure to prevent catastrophic climate change.
“This group unanimously suggests [stratospheric aerosol injection] considered within a new, broader framework for the governance of the stratosphere,” the experts wrote in the United Nations Environment Programme, or UNEP, report. for the stratosphere.
There is growing interest from scientists, governments, and philanthropists in research into stratospheric aerosol injection, a form of solar radiation management, or SRM (climatecable, February 27). Such approaches, which also include altering the density of certain clouds, have the potential to temporarily lower global average temperatures.
But the field of study, also known as solar geoengineering, remains controversial because it doesn’t address the root cause of climate change, the burning of fossil fuels, and could have unintended consequences. The release of aerosols into the stratosphere, for example, could damage the ozone layer, which protects people and the planet from the sun’s cancer-causing ultraviolent rays.
The UNEP report was authored by Govindasamy Bala, Professor of Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, along with eight other independent experts from around the world.
They urged international leaders to not only adopt stratospheric regulations, but also to support further SRM research. The experts also suggest that leaders consider establishing regulatory frameworks that differentiate between small-scale experiments and large-scale interventions in Earth’s climate system.
Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, warned against this latest intervention in a preview of the report.
“Even as a temporary response option, large-scale SRM deployment is fraught with scientific uncertainties and ethical issues. The evidence base is simply not there to make informed decisions,” he wrote. “We only have one atmosphere. We can’t risk damaging it further through a misunderstood shortcut to repair the damage we’ve already caused.”
David Fahey, director of NOAA’s Laboratory of Chemical Sciences, said he is the only US government official who helped co-author the report. The experts, he said, held a formal two-day meeting last May to prepare the UN secretary general for a possible discussion of the issue in the general assembly.
However, the UN general assembly did not address the SRM at its meeting last fall. The UNEP report was then produced via “quite a few Zoom calls,” Fahey told E&E News.
Until now, the only nation that deals with questions related to the stratosphere, pointed out what was Sweden. She turned down a proposed test in the stratosphere.
“They tried to create a structure, but it’s really difficult,” Fahey said. “I am very interested in seeing these conclusions gain some traction at the UN and in individual countries.”
Reprinted from E&E News with permission of POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2023. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environmental professionals.