Posted by: Hendra Siry | 1 October, 2009

Climate Engineering: Cheap Solutions Not Necessarily The Best

It is true the current policy-speak focuses on the approaches in cutting carbon emissions (known as mitigation) and in adjusting to the unavoidable impacts of climate change (known as adaptation). However, reintroduced lately is another option, climate engineering or geo-engineering, which means “deliberately manipulating physical, chemical, or biological aspects of the Earth’s system” as explained by the American Meteorological Society.

In other words, climate engineering means humans will try to tweak the Earth’s reflectivity (known as the albedo) by reflecting the Earth’s heat from the sun back into space. If we manage to increase the Earth’s albedo, it offers the most promising method of rapidly cooling the planet. However, climate engineering is not without flaws. There are risks associated with climate engineering. According to the New Scientist, if we try stratospheric aerosol insertion, which is essentially launching material like sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to reflect the sun’s rays, there is a risk of ozone depletion.

If we try to command “cloud ships”, which spray seawater mist into the air to thicken the earth’s clouds, there are only patchy chances of success, and both cloud ships and aerosol insertion will not prevent ocean acidification, which is caused by the rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. For an archipelagic country like Indonesia, whose people depend on coral reefs and the marine ecosystem and food web for their livelihood, ocean acidification would be a catastrophe. This brings us to the next argument: Climate engineering might distract the public and policy makers from the carbon emission reduction goal.

It was true the effects of sulfur dioxide from the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 led to a decrease in global temperatures by about 0.5 degrees C until 1993, but it was only temporary (USGS, 2005). Altering the earth’s albedo would also cause negative effects, such an increasing the risk of major droughts in some regions, and have a major impact on agriculture and the supply of fresh water, due to its effects on atmospheric circulation, rainfall, and other aspects of the hydrologic cycle.

Therefore, conventional approaches of climate change adaptation and mitigation should continue, especially efforts to balance the trade-off between the need for development and minimizing the impacts of climate change. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), for example, is in the process of formulating a regional multi-sectoral strategy on climate change adaptation and mitigation with food security.

Southeast Asia contributes 12 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions, 75 percent of which originates from the land use and forestry sector (FAO, 2005). Agriculture and forestry in the ASEAN region, therefore, offer options to link both adaptation and mitigation measures. If a country decides to pursue unilateral acts of climate engineering, which triggers drought somewhere else, it could create international conflicts. If we are seriously considering the climate engineering option, we would indeed need an international regulation governing mankind’s quest to manipulate the Earth’s system.

It is not that we should abandon the climate engineering option right away, but it is to examine it further and provide better research on what would be the benefits and consequences of climate engineering, and to elaborate on what would be its boundaries since no international norms and rules govern it as yet. The writer is the REDD program officer for the ASEAN-German Regional Forest Program. The views expressed here are his own.

Source: The Jakarta Post, October 1, 2009
Article By Fika Fawzia


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