Geo-engineering 'not immediate solution' to climate change

Geo-engineering - deliberate, large-scale interference with the planet's climate system - is not a 'quick fix' for global warming.

Geo-engineering would be much more expensive and challenging than previously thought and benefits would be limited

Geo-engineering would be much more expensive and challenging than previously thought and benefits would be limited

That's according to a new set of publically-funded studies into geo-engineering from the Universities of Leeds, Bristol and Oxford, which suggests that processes such as weather manipulation would be 'much more expensive and challenging than previously thought and benefits would be limited.'

The studies were influenced by a 2009 report - Geo-engineering the climate: science, governance and uncertainty - from the Royal Society calling for a major UK funding programme for research into geo-engineering.

Solar geo-engineering

The Integrated Assessment of Geo-engineering Proposals (IAGP) project, led by the University of Leeds, used computer-based models of the climate system to determine the effects of geo-engineering.

Scientists created a virtual reality using aeroplanes to inject sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere, creating sulphate aerosol to absorb sunlight and reflect some of it back into space.

Professor of physical climate change at the University of Leeds, Piers Forster, said: "Issues around monitoring and predicting the effects of our actions led to huge indecision and highlighted how challenging it would be to ever try and deploy these techniques in the real world."

Through public and stakeholder workshops, IAGP researchers found that the majority of people see geo-engineering as 'messing with nature' and that carbon dioxide removal approaches, which aim to cool the Earth by removing CO2 from the atmosphere, were favoured over solar geo-engineering approaches.

Identifying risks 

The Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) project, led by the University of Bristol, took a different approach by using volcanoes to mimic the effect of a solar geo-engineering idea. However, researchers came to a similar conclusion.

Reader in natural hazards at the University of Bristol, Dr Matthew Watson, said: "Whilst it is clear that temperatures could be reduced during deployment, the potential for misstep is considerable.

"By identifying risks, we hope to contribute to the evidence base around geo-engineering that will determine whether deployment, in the face of the threat of climate change, has the capacity to do more good than harm."

Mitigation and adaptation

The Climate Geo-engineering Governance (CGG) project, led by the University of Oxford, focussed on governance and regulatory challenges presented by research and deployment of geo-engineering methods.

Scientists concluded that cost estimates for major projects are 'unrealistic' and geo-engineering must be 'located firmly in the context of mitigation and adaptation to climate change.'

CGG research also exposed a paradox: Geo-engineering proposals that are technically easiest to implement and have the quickest impact may be most difficult to govern, while those that are easiest to govern seem likely to be further away from effective large-scale deployment.

The James Martin Professor of science and civilisation at the University of Oxford, Professor Steve Rayner, concluded: "Take everything you hear both for and against geo-engineering with a large grain of salt.

"Mostly it is too soon to know what any of these technology ideas would look like in practice or what would be their true cost and benefit. But it's almost certain that geo-engineering will be neither a magic bullet nor Pandora's Box."

Infographic: methods of geo-engineering

For more information on:

IGAP, click here

SPICE, click here

CGG, click here

Lois Vallely


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Energy efficiency & low-carbon
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