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Poor nations need say in use of climate geoengineering - researchers

by Zoe Tabary | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 21 November 2017 17:02 GMT

The Villarrica Volcano is seen at night in Pucon town, Chile, May 10, 2015. Villarrica, located near the popular tourist resort of Pucon, is among the most active in South America. REUTERS/Cristobal Saavedra

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"Whether we like it or not, geoengineering is going to happen," predicts energy researcher

By Zoe Tabary

LONDON, Nov 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Poor countries are most likely to be negatively affected by efforts to reverse climate change using global-scale technologies - but they remain largely unaware of the potential unintended consequences, researchers said Tuesday.

Developing countries' involvement in global discussion about "geoengineering" projects has so far been limited, as most have more immediate priorities and limited scientific capacity to engage on the topic, noted a report by the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

As the world continues to battle to cut the use of fossil fuels fast enough to hold global warming to relatively safe levels, governments are exploring not just ways to ratchet up carbon-cutting ambitions but also ways to suck some of the carbon that is already there back out of the atmosphere, or to reflect more warming sunlight away from the planet.

"Although most of the dialogue about geoengineering is taking place among researchers and NGOs, it's likely to get more attention at the policy level as climate change intensifies," said Andrew Scott, one of the report's authors and an energy researcher at ODI.

Geoengineering proposals are increasingly being discussed as efforts to cut the world's carbon emissions fall short of what is needed to hold global temperature rise to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, in line with the Paris Agreement to deal with climate change.

The planet has already seen about 1 degree Celsius of warming, and is on a track to at least 3 degrees unless carbon-cutting efforts become more ambitious, officials at the U.N. climate talks in Bonn said last week.

But critics warn that poor countries - who might see lowered disaster risk from the use of geoengineering measures - also risk bearing the brunt of unintended consequences, such as shifts in global rainfall patterns.

For example, spraying aerosol into the atmosphere to mimic the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions could potentially shift monsoons that billions of Asians rely on to grow food, geoengineering experts say.

"But research in the developing world into those effects is mainly limited to countries with strong science and technology capacity like India and China," Scott told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


Experts also worry that discussion of using carbon-sucking technologies could reduce the pressure to cut emissions now.

Douglas MacMartin, a senior researcher at Cornell University, said in a webinar Monday that "nothing in geoengineering technologies changes the fact that we must cut our carbon emissions aggressively" to limit global warming.

Scott agreed that "there is plenty we can do with known technologies to tackle climate change."

"But whether we like it or not, geoengineering is going to happen," he predicted.

"So our focus should be on making all countries aware of its costs and benefits, including the potential for unintended consequences, so they can have a say in the global debate."

(Reporting by Zoe Tabary @zoetabary, Editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, property rights, climate change, resilience and trafficking. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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