Despite a growing literature on the climate response to solar geoengineering—proposals to cool the planet by increasing the planetary albedo—there has been little published on the impacts of solar geoengineering on natural and human systems such as agriculture, health, water resources, and ecosystems. An understanding of the impacts of diﬀerent scenarios of solar geoengineering deployment will be crucial for informing decisions on whether and how to deploy it. Here we review the current stateof knowledge about impacts of a solar-geoengineered climate and identify the major research gaps. We suggest that a thorough assessment of the climate impacts of a range of scenarios of solar geoengineering deployment is needed and can be built upon existing frameworks. However, solar geoengineering poses a novel challenge for climate impacts research as the manner of deployment could be tailored to pursue diﬀerent objectives making possible a wide range of climate outcomes. We present a number of ideas for approaches to extend the survey of climate impacts beyond standard scenarios of solargeoengineering deployment to address this challenge. Reducing the impacts of climate change is the fundamental motivator for emissions reductions and for considering whether and how to deploy solargeoengineering. This means that the active engagement of the climate impacts research community will be important for improving the overall understanding of the opportunities, challenges, and risks presented by solar geoengineering.
We oﬀer a hypothesis that if solar geoengineering (SG) were deployed to oﬀset half of the increase in global-mean temperature from the date of deployment using a technology and deployment method chosen to approximate a reduction in the solar constant then, over the 21st century, it would (a) substantially reduce the global aggregate risks of climate change, (b) without making any country worse oﬀ, and (c) with the aggregate risks from side-eﬀects being small in comparison to the reduction in climate risks. We do not set out to demonstrate this hypothesis; rather we propose it with the goal of stimulating a strategic engagement of the SG research community with policy-relevant questions. We elaborate seven sub-hypotheses on the eﬀects of our scenario for key risks of climate change that could be assessed in future modeling work. As an example, we provide a defence of one of our sub-hypotheses, that our scenario of SG would reduce the risk of drought in dry regions, but also identify issues that may undermine this sub-hypothesis and how future work could resolve this question. SG cannot substitute for emissions mitigation but it may be a useful supplement. It is our hope that scientiﬁc and technical research over the next decade focuses more closely on well-articulated variants of the key policy-relevant question: could SG be designed and deployed in such a way that it could substantially and equitably reduce climate risks?
In the last decade, solar geoengineering (solar radiation management, or SRM) has receivedincreasing consideration as a potential means to reduce risks of anthropogenic climate change. Some ideas regarding SRM that have been proposed have receded after being appropriately scrutinized, while others have strengthened through testing and critique. This process has improved the understanding ofSRM’s potential and limitations. However, several claims are frequently made in the academic and popular SRM discourses and, despite evidence to the contrary, pose the risk of hardening into accepted facts. Here, in order to foster a more productive and honest debate, we identify, describe, and refute ﬁve of the most problematic claims that are unsupported by existing evidence, unlikely to occur, or greatly exaggerated. These are: (A) once started, SRM cannot be stopped; (B) SRM is a right-wing project; (C) SRM wouldcost only a few billion dollars per year; (D) modeling studies indicate that SRM would disrupt monsoonprecipitation; and (E) there is an international prohibition on outdoors research. SRM is a controversial proposed set of technologies that could prove to be very helpful or very harmful, and it warrants vigorous and informed public debate. By highlighting and debunking some persistent but unsupported claims, this paper hopes to bring rigor to such discussions.
Solar geoengineering has been proposed as a means to cool the Earth by increasing the reflection of sunlight back to space, for example, by injecting reflective aerosol particles (or their precursors) into the lower stratosphere. Such proposed techniques would not be able to substitute for mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as a response to the risks of climate change, as they would only mask some of the effects of global warming. They might, however, eventually be applied as a complementary approach to reduce climate risks. Thus, the Earth system consequences of solar geoengineering are central to understanding its potentials and risks. Here we review the state-of-the-art knowledge about stratospheric sulfate aerosol injection and an idealized proxy for this, ‘sunshade geoengineering,’ in which the intensity of incoming sunlight is directly reduced in models. Studies are consistent in suggesting that sunshade geoengineering and stratospheric aerosol injection would generally offset the climate effects of elevated GHG concentrations. However, it is clear that a solar geoengineered climate would be novel in some respects, one example being a notably reduced hydrological cycle intensity. Moreover, we provide an overview of nonclimatic aspects of the response to stratospheric aerosol injection, for example, its effect on ozone, and the uncertainties around its consequences. We also consider the issues raised by the partial control over the climate that solar geoengineering would allow. Finally, this overview highlights some key research gaps in need of being resolved to provide sound basis for guidance of future decisions around solar geoengineering.
Climate change has significant implications for biodiversity and ecosystems. With slow progress towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, climate engineering (or ‘geoengineering’) is receiving increasing attention for its potential to limit anthropogenic climate change and its damaging effects. Proposed techniques, such as ocean fertilization for carbon dioxide removal or stratospheric sulfate injections to reduce incoming solar radiation, would significantly alter atmospheric, terrestrial and marine environments, yet potential side-effects of their implementation for ecosystems and biodiversity have received little attention. A literature review was carried out to identify details of the potential ecological effects of climate engineering techniques. A group of biodiversity and environmental change researchers then employed a modified Delphi expert consultation technique to evaluate this evidence and prioritize the effects based on the relative importance of, and scientific understanding about, their biodiversity and ecosystem consequences. The key issues and knowledge gaps are used to shape a discussion of the biodiversity and ecosystem implications of climate engineering, including novel climatic conditions, alterations to marine systems and substantial terrestrial habitat change. This review highlights several current research priorities in which the climate engineering context is crucial to consider, as well as identifying some novel topics for ecological investigation.