Quirks & Quarks

Who's in charge of geoengineering the planet?

The Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative is trying to start the debate around geoengineering now so we're ready if and when we need to deploy it.
Some geoengineering strategies imitate the effects of volcanoes, like this one in Indonesia, by sending particles into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight. (Yosh Ginsu/Unsplash)

Our attempts to prevent catastrophic climate change have led to pushes to reduce the amount of carbon we put into our atmosphere. But even assuming we can meet the goals in the Paris Climate Agreement, we will still see a rise in global temperature over the coming decades.

Some people are now suggesting geoengineering as a solution. Generally, geoengineering refers to large scale efforts to remove carbon from the atmosphere, or to reflect sunlight back into space to cool the planet. The latter imitates what happens following a volcanic eruption, when ash and other particles are thrown into the atmosphere and partially block out the sun.

Geoengineering has now also become a subject of Holywood action movies, with the movie Geostorm.

Because of the large-scale nature of these options, if they are employed they would have a global impact and the exact impact and effects aren't known. Despite this, there is nothing preventing a single country, or even an individual from taking on the effort alone.

That is the motivation behind the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative (or C2G2). They want to begin the conversation around how to govern geoengineering before someone decides to take it on themselves. Recently, Janos Pazstor, executive director of the C2G2, wrote an editorial in the journal Science. He wants to move the discussion from being exclusively between scientists studying the issues and into the public policy sphere.