Climate Change

US government considers controversial solar geoengineering to counter global warming: Report

Report outlined research options for solar radiation management that may be able to reflect sunlight to space — but White House says it’s not changing its climate strategy

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Monday 03 July 2023
Photo: iStock_

The United States is eyeing a controversial tool to counter global warming: Solar radiation management (SRM), which involves reflecting a small fraction of sunlight into space.

In a report released June 30, 2023, the White House stated that public or private actors could carry out activities such as injecting aerosols and brightening marine clouds to reflect more sunlight into space.

Read more: Why geoengineering is still a dangerous, techno-utopian dream

The Biden administration has taken stock of the growing interest and investment in research on tools like SRM, the  document said. 

“The academia, philanthropy, and the private sector have examined preliminary applications of climate intervention techniques, such as stratospheric aerosol injection and marine cloud brightening,” the report read.

Many scientists have expressed concerns over the high environmental, social, and geopolitical risks that come with SRM. The report was developed in coordination with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other key US federal agencies. 

The document is a prelude to a research governance framework, which will be established as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year, 2022. The framework is expected to provide guidance on transparency, engagement, and risk management for publicly funded work in solar geoengineering research.

Different SRM methods explored by the White House report. 

The White House report called for research to enable better-informed decisions about the potential risks and benefits of the tool as part of its climate policy, in addition to mitigation and adaptation.

However, the Biden administration has not changed its policy stance. The government will remain focused on reducing emissions, increasing resilience, advancing environmental justice, and achieving energy security, according to the report.

Read more: ‘Geoengineering could be catastrophic for the planet’

The scientific dimensions of SRM involve new and continued ground-based, airborne, and space-based observations and improving global modelling of SRM approaches and scenarios. They can help in the understanding of the physical processes and outcomes associated with SRM.

Including laboratory research and outdoor experiments, the ability to detect global or regional SRM deployments and the development of scenarios for SRM is crucial, it said. The US government is already engaging in modelling, measurements and monitoring, as well as laboratory research.

The White House called for assessing the socioeconomic benefits and risks of SRM relative to those of climate change. “Cultural, moral and ethical considerations are often overlooked in model-based evaluations and may be equally, if not more, important to different communities,” the report read.

Further, the report highlighted gaps and potential risks with SRM. These include potential changes in precipitation patterns, changes in stratospheric temperatures, ozone amounts, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, productivity and mixing, terrestrial vegetation, coral reefs, biodiversity, crop production and ecosystems.

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