A solar geoengineering experiment scheduled for later this year in the skies above Arizona must be put on hold until critical concerns about safety, accountability, and human rights can be addressed, a former United Nations climate specialist cautioned in a recent speech at Arizona State University.
The warning from János Pásztor, now head of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative (C2G2), comes “as researchers prepare for what is thought to be the world’s first outdoor experiment in stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI),” a form of geoengineering that uses aerosols to reflect solar radiation back into space, Climate News Network reports.
The Harvard scientists involved in the upcoming Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx) maintain that the physical risks posed by the aerosols to be released during the trial “will be hundreds of times smaller than during a transatlantic flight by a commercial airliner,” Climate News Net notes. But Pásztor said the test would still set a dangerous precedent.
“We urgently need an open, inclusive discussion on how the world will research and govern solar geoengineering,” he said. “Otherwise, we could be in danger of events overtaking society’s capacity to respond prudently and effectively.”
Climate News Network writes that solar geoengineering “does not remove carbon from the atmosphere, and so it can be used only to supplement action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: it can never replace that action.” Even so, there are many risks and unknowns, “including possible harm to the environment, and to justice, geopolitical concerns, and governance.” And “any eventual full-scale deployment of technology of this sort would have planet-wide effects and pose profound ethical and governance challenges.”
Moreover, the technology is still at an early enough stage of development that scientists say it’s still 15 or 20 years away from prime time. One of Pásztor’s concerns is that even “discussing geoengineering could distract society from concentrating on cutting carbon dioxide emissions,” notes Climate News Net Managing Editor Alex Kirby.