Geoengineering

Geo-engineering: the way forward? Novel proposals for countering climate change

On 12 November 2010, UNESCO convened an international expert meeting on Geoengineering science and associated governance issues at its Paris Headquarters. Geoengineering is a response to the need to reduce climate change, and is the intentional, large-scale alteration of the climate system. The meeting was the first to use UNESCO’s ‘honest broker’ role to create a forum for international discussion and create awareness of the science and governance of this rapidly evolving field. The invited experts included 20 participants from a dozen countries and various academic, non profit, governmental and intergovernmental institutions.

The recommendations of the meeting were that geoengineering be considered in two categories:

  • Solar Geoengineering which refers to interventions that reduce the amount of solar radiation absorbed by the Earth’s climate system, such as the injection of reflective particles like sulphur dioxide into the lower or upper atmosphere, resulting in lower global average temperatures; and
  • Carbon Geoengineering which refers to the active removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through engineered CO2 scrubbers, or the enhancement of ecosystem processes, and results in a reduction of the detrimental impacts caused by the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The further recommendation of the meeting was the creation of an international research programme similar to the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) sponsored by the International Council for Science (ICSU), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and UNESCO.

The new programme could address the technological and scientific challenges of geoengineering and ensure that legitimate scientific research into this controversial issue may proceed. This recognizes the statement of the Convention on Biological Diversity, at its recent meeting in Nagoya, Japan, allowing for small-scale geoengineering research experiments as long as a number of controls are in place.

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