Climate engineering, a set of techniques proposed to intervene directly in the climate system to reduce risks from climate change, presents many novel governance challenges. Solar radiation management (SRM), particularly the use of stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI), is one of the most discussed proposals. It has been attracting more and more interest, and its pertinence as a potential option for responding to the threats from climate change may be set to increase because of the long-term temperature goal (well below 2°C or 1.5°C) in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Initial research has demonstrated that SAI would cool the climate system and reduce climate risks in many ways, although it is mired in unknown environmental risks and various sociopolitical ramifications. The proposed techniques are in the early stage of research and development (R&D), providing a unique opportunity for upstream public engagement, long touted as a desirable pathway to more plural and inclusive governance of emergent technologies by opening up social choices in technology. Solar geoengineering governance faces various challenges. One of the most acute of these is how to situate public engagement in international governance discourse; the two topics have been studied separately. Another challenge relates to bridging the gap between the social choices at hand and assessment of the risks and benefits of SRM. Deeper integration of knowledge across disciplines and stakeholder and public inputs is a prerequisite for enabling responsible innovation for the future of our climate.
Masahiro Sugiyama, Atsushi Ishii, Shinichiro Asayama, and Takanobu Kosugi
Historic discussions of climate often suggested that it caused societies to have certain qualities. In the 19th-century, imperial representations of the world environment frequently “determined” the fate of peoples and places, a practice that has frequently been used to explain the largest patterns of political rivalry and the fates of empires and their struggles for dominance in world politics. In the 21st century, climate change has mostly reversed the causal logic in the reasoning about human–nature relationships and their geographies. The new thinking suggests that human decisions, at least those made by the rich and powerful with respect to the forms of energy that are used to power the global economy, are influencing future climate changes. Humans are now shaping the environment on a global scale, not the other way around. Despite the widespread acceptance of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate-change action, numerous arguments about who should act and how they should do so to deal with climate change shape international negotiations. Differing viewpoints are in part a matter of geographical location and whether an economy is dependent on fossil-fuels revenue or subject to increasingly severe storms, droughts, or rising sea levels. These differences have made climate negotiations very difficult in the last couple of decades. Partly in response to these differences, the Paris Agreement devolves primary responsibility for climate policy to individual states rather than establish any other geopolitical arrangement. Apart from the outright denial that humanity is a factor in climate change, arguments about whether climate change causes conflict and how security policies should engage climate change also partly shape contemporary geopolitical agendas. Despite climate-change deniers, in the Trump administration in particular, in the aftermath of the Paris Agreement, climate change is understood increasingly as part of a planetary transformation that has been set in motion by industrial activity and the rise of a global fossil-fuel-powered economy. But this is about more than just climate change. The larger earth-system science discussion of transformation, which can be encapsulated in the use of the term “Anthropocene” for the new geological circumstances of the biosphere, is starting to shape the geopolitics of climate change just as new political actors are beginning to have an influence on climate politics.
Bjørn H. Samset
Among the factors that affect the climate, few are as diverse and challenging to understand as aerosols. Minute particles suspended in the atmosphere, aerosols are emitted through a wide range of natural and industrial processes, and are transported around the globe by winds and weather. Once airborne, they affect the climate both directly, through scattering and absorption of solar radiation, and indirectly, through their impact on cloud properties. Combining all their effects, anthropogenic changes to aerosol concentrations are estimated to have had a climate impact over the industrial era that is second only to CO2. Their atmospheric lifetime of only a few days, however, makes their climate effects substantially different from those of well-mixed greenhouse gases. Major aerosol types include sea salt, dust, sulfate compounds, and black carbon—or soot—from incomplete combustion. Of these, most scatter incoming sunlight back to space, and thus mainly cool the climate. Black carbon, however, absorbs sunlight, and therefore acts as a heating agent much like a greenhouse gas. Furthermore, aerosols can act as cloud condensation nuclei, causing clouds to become whiter—and thus more reflecting—further cooling the surface. Black carbon is again a special case, acting to change the stability of the atmosphere through local heating of the upper air, and also changing the albedo of the surface when it is deposited on snow and ice, for example. The wide range of climate interactions that aerosols have, and the fact that their distribution depends on the weather at the time and location of emission, lead to large uncertainties in the scientific assessment of their impact. This in turn leads to uncertainties in our present understanding of the climate sensitivity, because while aerosols have predominantly acted to oppose 20th-century global warming by greenhouse gases, the magnitude of aerosol effects on climate is highly uncertain. Finally, aerosols are important for large-scale climate events such as major volcanoes, or the threat of nuclear winter. The relative ease with which they can be produced and distributed has led to suggestions for using targeted aerosol emissions to counteract global warming—so-called climate engineering.