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30 Jun, 2023 17:15

EU warns against selfish geoengineering

Spraying reflective particles into the atmosphere may cool one area of the Earth, but studies show it risks heating others even more
EU warns against selfish geoengineering

The European Commission has warned the bloc’s lawmakers that geoengineering – large-scale technological interventions to mitigate climate change – is fraught with potential “unintended consequences.” 

The EU executive body said in a statement released on Wednesday that deploying technologies like solar radiation modification without sufficient understanding of the potential dangers – either for Europeans or populations elsewhere in the world – could be devastating.

“These technologies introduce new risks to people and ecosystems, while they could also increase power imbalances between nations, spark conflicts and raises a myriad of ethical, legal, governance and political issues,” the statement continued, adding that there were no existing rules to ensure such technologies were deployed safely, and that any serious efforts must engage the EU and UN. 

“Nobody should be conducting experiments alone with our shared planet,” EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans told reporters earlier this week, calling for any proposed experiments to be “discussed in the right forum, at the highest international level.” 

It’s the latest sign of global concern over climate interventions. Billionaire Microsoft co-founder and Bill Gates attempted to bring his Harvard geoengineering team and their sun-dimming experiment to the north of Sweden in 2021, only to meet with ferocious opposition from the indigenous Saami population and Swedish NGOs, forcing them to return to the US.

Gates has invested heavily in stratospheric aerosol injection, a type of geoengineering in which finely powdered rock is released into the atmosphere to block some of the sun’s rays. Indigenous leaders warned the experiment would create a “moral hazard,” destroying any incentive to reach net zero carbon emissions. Meanwhile, the US – and the rest of the world – would be locked into a geoengineering sequence permanently, as halting the process would result in a sudden rebound of heating.

Critics have also pointed to studies showing that geoengineering setups like Gates’s could destabilize areas of the world in which they are not deployed, worsening the effects of climate change elsewhere by as much as 9%, even as they cooled whichever wealthy country could afford to deploy them. 

Mexico banned geoengineering experiments in January after a startup called Make Sunsets tried spraying sulfur particles into the air “without any public engagement or scientific scrutiny,” according to MIT Technology Review. The university condemned that experiment, but has remained bullish on geoengineering, recently suggesting it “might be our final and only option.” The UN released a report in March backing the idea. 

The European Commission included its concerns in a document reimagining what it called “the climate and security nexus.” The bloc’s leaders argued that climate change posed a greater threat to national security than ever – not just with biodiversity and resource depletion, but with a surge in migrant populations, more interactions with disease-carrying animals, and potentially runaway technology.