Science panel calls for federal research into geoengineering

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Leading experts on climate change science and technology are calling on the federal government to launch a coordinated investigation of the potential effectiveness, feasibility, and consequences of so-called geoengineering.

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) Task Force on Climate Remediation Research says in its report that ideas such as removal of CO2 from the atmosphere or using particles to reflect sunlight back into space should be investigated in case they turn out to be necessary.

"Most climate remediation concepts proposed to date involve some combination of risks, financial costs, and/or physical limitations that make them inappropriate to pursue except as complementary or emergency measures — for example, if the climate system reaches a 'tipping point' and swift remedial action is required," says the report.

"Even if it decides not to deploy any climate remediation technology, the US needs to evaluate steps others might take and be able to effectively participate in — and lead — the important international conversations that are likely to emerge around these issues and activities in the years ahead."

The report stresses the need for a co-ordinated approach, with a unified agenda and funding strategy - rather than simply yoking together disparate programs and projects that emerge on an ad hoc basis.

It recommends that a climate remediation research program should be coordinated by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which should help to make sure that the goals of the program don't get swallowed up by the more narrow interests of particular agencies.

Any projects should be entered into very carefully, says the team.

"Some proposed climate remediation techniques, particularly solar radiation management, could be fast-acting, be deployed at very low cost, and have quite serious and uneven impacts — intended and unintended," says Stephen Rademaker, Task Force co-chair and former US assistant secretary of state.

More likely to be useful, they say, would be greater efforts to reduce the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases being put into the atmosphere in the first place.