Go ahead and change the atmosphere, no one will stop you – most likely

A de facto moratorium on solar geoengineering will remain in place after heated talks at the United Nations Environment Assembly end in a deadlock. The debate is over whether people should be allowed to shoot particles into the sky that would reflect sunlight back into space, ostensibly cooling the planet.

It is a hotly contested tactic for tackling climate change. Geoengineering does nothing to stop the real cause of the problem: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. Manipulating the composition of our planet and its atmosphere in order to reflect solar radiation could lead to unexpected consequences that scientists are still trying to understand. After all, the climate change we are already seeing—in the form of rising sea levels, extreme weather, and other catastrophes—can be seen as a result of unintended geoengineering through greenhouse gas pollution.

The debate is over whether to allow people to shoot particles into the sky that would reflect sunlight back into space, ostensibly cooling the planet.

Humanity has just experienced its hottest year on record, and high temperatures in 2023 are likely to exceed those of at least last year. 100,000 years. Despite being trapped in a burning house, planet-heating emissions from our energy use are still reaching a level Score high last year. With that in mind, proponents of solar geoengineering research say it's time to consider even the strangest options for reducing heat.

One pessimistic startup — actually just a few guys Grill fungi And the release of the resulting sulfur dioxide gas On board weather balloons – Many people have been angered by the fact that solar geoengineering experiments in Mexico and the United States have been going ahead since 2022. The company is essentially trying to mimic the way volcanic eruptions can do that. Temporarily cool planet by Release of sulfur dioxideWhich mixes with water in the stratosphere to form a foggy layer of reflective aerosol.

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Actual research groups interested in the possibilities of solar geoengineering have been more cautious, avoiding real-world tests until they have a better idea of ​​the potential risks. Right now, no one really knows what might happen with large-scale geoengineering projects. It may help cool the planet; It may also lead to the rupture of the ozone layer over Antarctica.

All of this has led to a wave of attempts to establish some standards for solar geoengineering projects. The startup's experiments last year may have been too small to make a big impact. But if a more capable group or government decides to throw caution to the wind and try something similar on a larger scale, it could have consequences for the entire planet.

There is already a The de facto global moratorium On large-scale geoengineering was agreed upon during the UN Biodiversity Conference in 2010. But it is outdated and the language is vague. This does not apply to small experiments and may be limited to solar geoengineering efforts that are considered harmful to biodiversity.

Without stricter international rules to stop rogue experiments, governments could be left to play catch up with startups that can move their operations from one place to another. Mexico said it would ban future experiments after the startup's fungicide barbecue balloon was launched within its borders. The startup launched more balloons in California the following year.

In the absence of international rules to stop rogue experiments, governments may be left playing whack-a-mole

A committee of experts of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) published a a report In 2023, he said that “with so many unknowns and risks, there is a strong need to establish an international scientific review process to identify scenarios, consequences, uncertainties and knowledge gaps.” In June, the European Union called for an international framework to manage geoengineering efforts.

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Switzerland presented to the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, this week a proposal to establish a panel of experts to study “risks and opportunities” in solar geoengineering. Major climate news Reports. But it was reportedly dropped by a group of African and Pacific island nations, Mexico and Colombia.

Opponents see this proposal as a veiled attempt to legitimize solar geoengineering. Some countries and environmental advocates are pushing for a tougher agreement that would prevent solar geoengineering from stopping completely. But this was not achieved at the summit held in Nairobi this week.

“Solar radiation modulation (SRM) technologies are dangerous and have no role to play in our shared future. These technologies cannot address the root causes of the climate crisis,” Mary Church, senior geoengineering campaigner at the Center for International Environmental Law, said in a report. “Instead, it will enable big polluters to delay the urgent need to phase out fossil fuels.” statement yesterday.

After all this back and forth, a de facto moratorium on geoengineering in 2010 remains the only international agreement standing between the intrepid startups and their plans to try to save the world — or perhaps endanger it.

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