This group is a fast-growing team of researchers working at the intersection of climate science and technology with a focus on the science and public policy of solar geoengineering under the leadership of David Keith, Professor of Applied Physics at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

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Featured Publications

Parametric Insurance for Solar Geoengineering: Insights from the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative

Joshua B. Horton, Penehuro Lefale, and David Keith. 10/10/2020. “Parametric Insurance for Solar Geoengineering: Insights from the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative.” Global Policy, Special Issue. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Solar geoengineering (SG) entails using technology to modify the Earth's radiative balance to offset some of the climate changes caused by long‐lived greenhouse gases. Parametric insurance, which delivers payouts when specific physical indices (such as wind speed) cross predefined thresholds, was recently proposed by two of us as a compensation mechanism for SG with the potential to ease disagreements about the technology and to facilitate cooperative deployment; we refer to this proposal as reduced‐rate climate risk insurance for solar geoengineering, or ‘RCG’. Here we probe the plausibility of RCG by exploring the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative (PCRAFI), a sovereign risk pool providing parametric insurance coverage against tropical cyclones and earthquakes/tsunamis to Pacific island countries since 2013. Tracing the history of PCRAFI and considering regional views on insurance as compensation necessitates reconfiguring RCG in a way that shifts the focus away from bargaining between developed and developing countries toward bargaining among developed countries. This revised version of RCG is challenged by an assumption of broad developed country support for sovereign climate insurance in the developing world, but it also better reflects the underlying incentive structure and distribution of power.
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Technical characteristics of a solar geoengineering deployment and implications for governance

Douglas MacMartin, Peter Irvine, Ben Kravitz, and Joshua Horton. 9/23/2019. “Technical characteristics of a solar geoengineering deployment and implications for governance.” Climate Policy, 19, 10, Pp. 1325-1339. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Consideration of solar geoengineering as a potential response to climate change will demand complex decisions. These include not only the choice of whether to deploy solar engineering, but decisions regarding how to deploy, and ongoing decisionmaking throughout deployment. Research on the governance of solar geoengineering to date has primarily engaged only with the question of whether to deploy. We examine the science of solar geoengineering in order to clarify the technical dimensions of decisions about deployment – both strategic and operational – and how these might influence governance considerations, while consciously refraining from making specific recommendations. The focus here is on a hypothetical deployment rather than governance of the research itself. We first consider the complexity surrounding the design of a deployment scheme, in particular the complicated and difficult decision of what its objective(s) would be, given that different choices for how to deploy will lead to different climate outcomes. Next, we discuss the on-going decisions across multiple timescales, from the sub-annual to the multi-decadal. For example, feedback approaches might effectively manage some uncertainties, but would require frequent adjustments to the solar geoengineering deployment in response to observations. Other decisions would be tied to the inherently slow process of detection and attribution of climate effects in the presence of natural variability. Both of these present challenges to decision-making. These considerations point toward particular governance requirements, including an important role for technical experts – with all the challenges that entails.
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Multilateral parametric climate risk insurance: a tool to facilitate agreement about deployment of solar geoengineering?

David Keith and Joshua Horton. 4/23/2019. “Multilateral parametric climate risk insurance: a tool to facilitate agreement about deployment of solar geoengineering?” Climate Policy. Publisher's VersionAbstract
States will disagree about deployment of solar geoengineering, technologies that would reflect a small portion of incoming sunlight to reduce risks of climate change, and most disagreements will be grounded in conflicting interests. States that object to deployment will have many options to oppose it, so states favouring deployment will have a powerful incentive to meet their objections. Objections rooted in opposition to the anticipated unequal consequences of deployment may be met through compensation, yet climate policy is inhospitable to compensation via liability. We propose that multilateral parametric climate risk insurance might be a useful tool to facilitate agreement on solar geoengineering deployment. With parametric insurance, predetermined payouts are triggered when climate indices deviate from set ranges. We suggest that states favouring deployment could underwrite reduced-rate parametric climate insurance. This mechanism would be particularly suited to resolving disagreements based on divergent judgments about the outcomes of proposed implementation. This would be especially relevant in cases where disagreements are rooted in varying levels of trust in climate model predictions of solar geoengineering effectiveness and risks. Negotiations over the pricing and terms of a parametric risk pool would make divergent judgments explicit and quantitative. Reduced-rate insurance would provide a way for states that favour implementation to demonstrate their confidence in solar geoengineering by underwriting risk transfer and ensuring compensation without the need for attribution. This would offer a powerful incentive for states opposing implementation to moderate their opposition.
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Harvard's Solar Geoengineering Research Program

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About David Keith

David Keith has worked near the interface between climate science, energy technology, and public policy for twenty five years. He took first prize in Canada's national physics prize exam, won MIT's prize for excellence in experimental physics, and was one of TIME magazine's Heroes of the Environment 2009.

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