Geo-engineering no quick fix for climate change, warn experts

Geo-engineering schemes like reflecting solar radiation or sucking CO2 out of the sky will not be a feasible way to reduce emissions for the next several decades, a new EU-funded report has warned.

The analysis comes from the European Trans-disciplinary Assessment of Climate Engineering (EuTRACE), a multinational project set up to examine the potential climate benefits of geo-engineering.

EuTRACE project co-ordinator Professor Mark Lawrence said: “It is important to understand the possibilities and problems associated with climate engineering proposals, in order to make decisions on them in a responsible manner.

“But it would be irresponsible, based on all we know so far, to expect climate engineering to significantly contribute to solving the problem of climate change in the next several decades.”

The report warns against the ‘numerous harmful impacts on ecosystems, many of which are presently uncertain or unknown’. Other problems include the massive cost of necessary infrastructure, a lack of understanding of the full range of weather impacts, and the difficulty of aligning international Governments on a global project.

A similar study in November last year from leading British universities found that geo-engineering would be ‘much more expensive and challenging than previously thought and benefits would be limited’.

Professor Lawrence concluded that geoengineering was more likley to be a help than a hindrance in the short term, when tacking global warming.

He said: “We will only be able to limit the effects of climate change if all states commit to drastically reducing their CO2emissions, at the Climate Summit in Paris and beyond, following through on that commitment in the years thereafter,”

Next-gen tech

Most climate engineering techniques can be grouped into two broad categories: “greenhouse gas removal” and “albedo modification”, which is the cooling of the Earth’s surface by increasing the amount of solar radiation that is reflected back to space.

Under the greenhouse gas removal label, ideas include the use of biomass technology alongside CCS, and ocean fertilisation, which is intended to increase the growth of phytoplankton, thus increasing the uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The EuTRACE report does not rule out the long-term value of these technologies, and calls for more investment to help clarify the complex economic, ecological and societal challenges posed.

Bill Gates recently told the Financial Times he thought the eventual solution to climate change would come from these ‘next generation’ technologies, although he focused on renewables projects, such as high altitude wind power, which uses tethered kites and gliders to capture the high-speed winds circling the atmosphere at 20,000 feet.

Brad Allen

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