Tinkering with the planet’s air to cool Earth’s ever-warming climate is inching closer to reality enough so that two different high-powered groups — one of scientists and one of former world leaders — are trying to come up with ethics and governing guidelines.
On Thursday, the newly formed Climate Overshoot Commission — which includes the former presidents of Mexico, Niger and Kiribati, a former Canadian prime minister, the ex-chief of World Trade Organization and other national minister level officials — will have its first meeting in Italy in a 15-month process to come up with governance strategy on pulling carbon dioxide out of the air, lowering temperatures by reflecting sunlight with artificial methods and adapting to climate change. This month, the American Geophysical Union, the largest society of scientists who work on climate issues, announced it was forming an ethics framework for “climate intervention” that would be ready for debate during the major international climate negotiations in November in Egypt.
This shows the idea of “solar geoengineering is finally getting serious,” said Harvard University climate scientist David Keith, a leader in the field.
Both groups said they aren’t quite advocating geoengineering, which includes putting particles in the air to reflect sunlight or whiten clouds, or the less-disputed carbon dioxide removal, such as technology to suck carbon out of the air but also more nature-based solutions such as more trees and getting oceans to sponge up more carbon.
But the two groups say the ideas need to be discussed with global warming nearing and likely shooting past the international goal of limiting temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times. The world has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the mid-1800s and scientists say the world likely to pass the 1.5-degree mark in the 2030s.
“The climate change problem is at a point where even extreme options need to be thought about seriously,” Climate Overshoot Commission Executive Secretary Jesse Reynolds said in a Monday interview. “Now, to be clear, thinking about them includes the possibility of rejecting them. But not thinking about them does not seem to be a responsible path forward.”