“Geo-engineering” scheme advances at Bonn climate talks

We noted years ago when the Kyoto Protocol was pending that right-wing entities like the Competitive Enterprise Institute were pushing the line that climate change is inevitable and that the correct response is to “adapt to it.” Since then, a hubristic agenda for what its advocates call “geo-engineering” has emerged. Environmentalists have dismissed the notion as a “dangerous distraction” or even as counter-productive. Now it appears that this agenda may be winning some sympathy in high places From AFP, June 18 (links added):

As climate talks sputter, UN scientists vet ‘Plan B’
On the heels of another halting round of talks on climate change, UN scientists this week will review quick-fix options for beating back the threat of global warming that rely on technology rather than political wrangling.

Experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), meeting for three days from Monday in the Peruvian capital Lima, will ponder “geo-engineering” solutions designed to cool the planet, or at least brake the startling rise in Earth’s temperature.

Seeding the ocean with iron, scattering heat-reflecting particles in the stratosphere, building towers to suck carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere, and erecting a giant sunshade in space are all on the examining table.

Critics say such schemes — some of which have been tested experimentally — are a roll of the dice with Earth’s climate system and its complex web of biodiversity.

And even if one problem is solved, they argue, it may be impossible to anticipate knock-on effects and unintended consequences.

There is a political danger as well, climate policy experts caution: the prospect of a quick fix to global warming could weaken an already fragile global consensus on the need to reduce greenhouse gases or subvert complicated methods for measuring emissions cuts.

“It’s a convenient way for Northern governments to dodge their commitments to emissions reduction,” said Silvia Ribeiro of the ETC Group, a technology watchdog group.

Last week, more than 100 organisations, including ETC and Friends of the Earth, sent an open letter to the IPCC “demanding a clear statement of its commitment to precaution and to the existing international moratorium on geo-engineering.”

Only four years ago, in its landmark Fourth Assessment Report, the IPCC dismissed geo-engineering in a brief aside as charged with potential risk and unquantified cost.

But now the Nobel-winning panel is taking a closer look, a telling sign, for some, that the effort to tackle global warming through politics is taking too long and bearing too little fruit.

Delegates ended another 12-day talkfest in Bonn on Friday under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), still deeply riven over who should cut their emissions, by how much and when.

Current pledges fall far short of holding temperature rise in check below 2.0 degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with pre-industrial levels, a widely accepted threshold for safety…

Geo-engineering schemes can be as simple as planting trees to absorb CO2 or painting flat roofs white to reflect sunlight back into space, a technique already in use in many sun-baked urban settings.

They also include scattering sea salt aerosols in low marine clouds to render them more mirror-like, sowing the stratosphere with reflective sulphate particles, or “fertilising” the ocean surface with iron to spur the growth of micro-organisms that gobble up CO2.

At the sci-fi end of the scale is a proposal — which exists, for now, only on paper — for a sunshade positioned at a key point between Earth and the Sun that would deflect one or two percent of solar radiation, turning the planet’s thermostat down a notch.

In an analysis published in September 2009, the Royal Society, Britain’s academy of sciences, judged that planting forests and building towers to capture CO2 could make a useful contribution — once they are demonstrated to be “safe, effective, sustainable and affordable.”

It also noted that blunting the impact of solar radiation would still not lower atmospheric concentrations of CO2, which is also driving ocean acidification.

And from The Guardian, June 5:

Global warming crisis may mean world has to suck greenhouse gases from air
As Bonn talks begin, UN climate chief warns of temperature goals set too low and clock ticking on climate change action

The world may have to resort to technology that sucks greenhouse gases from the air to stave off the worst effects of global warming, the UN climate change chief has said before talks on the issue beginning on Monday.

“We are putting ourselves in a scenario where we will have to develop more powerful technologies to capture emissions out of the atmosphere,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. “We are getting into very risky territory,” she added, stressing that time was running out.

The UN climate talks starting on Monday in Bonn, which run for the next two weeks, will try to revive the negotiations before the next climate conference, taking place in Durban, South Africa, in December. But little progress is expected, as the negotiating time is likely to be taken up with details such as rules on monitoring emissions.

Figueres tried to inject a greater sense of urgency into the proceedings by pointing to research from the International Energy Agency that found that emissions had soared last year by a record amount. The strong rise means it will take more effort by governments to curb emissions.

Let’s hope this is just being used as a strawman to stress the urgency of the crisis—but it is still incredibly dangerous.

See our last post on the climate crisis.

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  1. CIA funds geo-engineering study
    From Mother Jones, July 17:

    The Central Intelligence Agency is funding a scientific study that will investigate whether humans could use geoengineering to alter Earth’s environment and stop climate change. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) will run the 21-month project, which is the first NAS geoengineering study financially supported by an intelligence agency. With the spooks’ money, scientists will study how humans might influence weather patterns, assess the potential dangers of messing with the climate, and investigate possible national security implications of geoengineering attempts.