Society launches geoengineering initiative

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A new initiative to ensure strict governance of any plans for solar radiation management (SRM) geoengineering will be undertaken this year by the Royal Society, in partnership with TWAS, the academy of sciences for the developing world, and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

The first results of the initiative will be a set of recommendations for the governance of geoengineering research, to be released late in 2010.

Proposed geoengineering techniques that reflect the sun’s light and heat back into space may offer valuable opportunities to reduce global warming, and could do so quite rapidly, but it is likely that their impacts would also affect rainfall, regional weather patterns and ocean currents.

These impacts would not be restricted by national boundaries, so actions in one country could have highly significant effects in another, for example, by changing rainfall and so affecting agriculture and water supply.

Prof John Shepherd FRS said: ’The disappointing outcome of Copenhagen has shown that achieving global agreement to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases is not easy. Some countries or organisations may consider geoengineering methods by which they could deliberately alter our climate. Large-scale field trials of some SRM techniques could cause damaging side-effects. It is essential that we consider beforehand what legislative mechanisms and guidelines are needed, to ensure that any research that is undertaken will be done in a highly responsible and controlled manner with full international agreement where necessary.’

The initiative being launched by the Royal Society and its partners EDF and TWAS will engage with a variety of organisations concerned with natural and social science, governance and legal issues, as well as environmental and development NGOs, industry and civil society organisations, from across the globe.

This will ensure that evidence and opinion is sought from a wide range of stakeholders with appropriate expertise, leading to recommendations for the governance of both research and possible deployment of SRM techniques, best practice guidelines and a suggested framework for how SRM research could be undertaken through international co-operation.

The initiative is being supported by a range of funders and partners, including Zennström Philanthropies.