Why are we talking about solar geoengineering?

Despite the ambition of the Paris Agreement to keep warming under 1.5oC-2oC, global efforts to keep temperatures within that limit are failing. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is sounding the alarm that the world is likely to overshoot its climate targets well before midcentury, leading to increasing devastation. The most important action we must take is and has been clear – mitigate greenhouse gas emissions as fast as possible. But we are not moving fast enough, leading to rising concerns about increasing human suffering and putting planet’s ecosystems at risk. As a result, influential processes & organizations such as the IPCC, UN Environment Programme, and the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine are beginning to raise discussion around the idea of solar geoengineering: proposed methods of reflecting sunlight away from the planet, with the intention of reducing global mean temperatures. Solar geoengineering has the potential to protect the most vulnerable from some types of major climate impacts, but does not address all climate impacts, and also presents a range of ecological and social risks and challenges

What do you mean by just deliberation?

Currently there are no national or international governance frameworks for solar geoengineering, including research. It is imperative that future decisions on this subject are made in a deliberative, inclusive manner. That means including and elevating voices from the Global South and underrepresented communities worldwide to produce diverse ideas and build legitimacy for the dialogue and governance of solar geoengineering. Just deliberation is established within the mission of DSG, to protect fundamental rights in decision-making by all.

How will DSG contribute to climate justice more broadly?

Solar geoengineering may reduce climate harms by altering the amount or rate of global temperature increases. However, solar geoengineering may also worsen existing power inequalities while imposing outsized and disproportionate harms on some communities and benefitting others. Furthermore, like climate change itself, the decision whether or not to use solar geoengineering will have effects that reverberate both globally and, potentially, far into the future.

A just response to climate change require that all possible tools used to manage climate impacts-including solar geoengineering-be governed inclusively and legitimately in order to produce equitable benefits for all. However, although there are some well-established mechanisms to work towards these justice-based goals when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and for adapting to negative climate impacts, those associated with solar geoengineering are either very immature or nonexistent. DSG will contribute to climate justice more broadly by helping to ensure that solar geoengineering research, governance, and potential deployment aims to include the interests and views of the climate vulnerable.

Why is solar geoengineering research controversial? Does DSG support research on this topic?

Research into solar geoengineering is controversial due to the physical and social risks that solar geoengineering presents. The critical question that DSG is engaging with is how research is being conducted. How are research questions being developed and by whom? Who is funding research and where? Different types of research will require different types of governance – how do we ensure research is responsible and safe? Within the solar geoengineering research space there are also lots of questions of inclusivity for which there are no answers right now. How are marginal communities represented? What about Global South countries? DSG plans to engage in all of these questions. In all aspects of solar geoengineering research, the role of public participation needs to be embedded, meaning that civil society must be an important player, one that is currently largely absent from this space.

Why do we need to talk about solar geoengineering governance?

Based on our current understanding, solar geoengineering could potentially reduce some impacts of climate change, but it also brings its own serious physical risks and social challenges. It is also likely technically feasible in the near term for many individuals, countries or blocs to pursue unilaterally, given its likely low direct cost of implementation. 

Given these risks, solar geoengineering governance is needed for both research and deployment. Research is ongoing and will involve greater effects on the environment at different scales. Governance is an essential tool to build better research that is responsible, inclusive, and environmentally safe. Deployment of solar geoengineering would involve a much wider set of risks, costs, and benefits. If used, its effectiveness would require monitoring and its impacts properly attributed. Governance mechanisms will be absolutely critical to ensure that solar geoengineering, if used, is used justly. Governance would also be required to institute any international agreements around solar geoengineering across the spectrum of decisions, from moratoriums to coordinated research. 

Solar geoengineering remains largely absent from international governance thus far, but as the field is growing across the public and private sectors, building good governance must be a focus both to ensure better decision-making, and to ensure there are consequences for unethical actions.

Aren’t other organizations already doing capacity-building around solar geoengineering? What makes DSG unique?

There are very few existing efforts that are doing work to build capacity in climate vulnerable communities and countries to participate in solar geoengineering discussions. For example, The Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative (C2G) and The Degrees Initiative have been working to create a diverse community of informed stakeholders that are able to contribute to debates surrounding solar geoengineering. The Degrees Initiative has hosted numerous workshops that bring together climate scientists and experts from the Global South to learn about and discuss solar geoengineering as well as funding researchers across Global South countries. These types activities are needed to ensure that there is sufficient solar geoengineering knowledge and expertise in the Global South, which is one form of capacity needed to govern it. DSG is excited to work with these leading institutions, as well as others already involved in solar geoengineering capacity building.  

DSG also plans enable, empower and encourage new organizations to engage this topic. Our work focuses on building a wider range of capacities, specifically in civil society, that are needed to govern solar geoengineering, including capacities related to conducting community engagement and establishing regulatory frameworks. We believe that sustained efforts to build capacity for governance is ultimately necessary to ensure that important decisions about whether and how to research and potentially deploy solar geoengineering are made in just and equitable ways. DSG also hopes to build more justice-oriented communications, and be an active contributor to ongoing governance processes.

How will DSG do its work?

DSG is working towards justice-oriented deliberation on decisions about research and potential use of solar geoengineering. Importantly, this work is not be advocacy oriented (i.e. not advocating for or against solar geoengineering deployment), rather a focused effort to empower civil society and other policy actors to engage in solar geoengineering decision-making. DSG’s engagement model is inspired by recent efforts to rethink this approach to capacity building, by emphasizing ownership of the process and its outcomes into capacity building exercises with stakeholders around the world. We are looking to build long-term partnerships with a range of local actors from civil society that understand the local context and needs and that can be focal points for sustaining and strengthening governance capacity long into the future. Take a closer look at the activities page to learn more.

How do we ensure we are unbiased?

One of the most challenging aspects of solar geoengineering is how it has been communicated, perceived, and discussed. The dialogue around solar geoengineering has remained either very technocratic or very biased, with limited inputs from inclusive, public domains. There has been a lack of trusted voices that focuses on good governance and just outcomes rather than advocating for a particular research or deployment outcome. 

Given this reality, DSG offers its core principles as a means to remain unbiased. Briefly, DSG seeks to uplift vulnerable communities and civil society voices on this topic, to weigh all risks associated with research and potential deployments of solar geoengineering, and is focused on development of just processes and narratives rather than outcomes.

How can I get involved?

Stay tuned to our newsletter, publications, and participation in media & events. We’re just getting started and are looking forward to building a bigger team and contributing to the growth of this community.