Academic Publication

Andy Parker and Peter Irvine. 3/11/2018. “The Risk of Termination Shock From Solar Geoengineering.” Earth's Future, 6, Pp. 456-467. Publisher's VersionAbstract
If solar geoengineering were to be deployed so as to mask a high level of global warming, and then stopped suddenly, there would be a rapid and damaging rise in temperatures. This effect is often referred to as termination shock, and it is an influential concept. Based on studies of its potential impacts, commentators often cite termination shock as one of the greatest risks of solar geoengineering. However, there has been little consideration of the likelihood of termination shock, so that conclusions about its risk are premature. This paper explores the physical characteristics of termination shock, then uses simple scenario analysis to plot out the pathways by which different driver events (such as terrorist attacks, natural disasters, or political action) could lead to termination. It then considers where timely policies could intervene to avert termination shock. We conclude that some relatively simple policies could protect a solar geoengineering system against most of the plausible drivers. If backup deployment hardware were maintained and if solar geoengineering were implemented by agreement among just a few powerful countries, then the system should be resilient against all but the most extreme catastrophes. If this analysis is correct, then termination shock should be much less likely, and therefore much less of a risk, than has previously been assumed. Much more sophisticated scenario analysis—going beyond simulations purely of worst‐case scenarios—will be needed to allow for more insightful policy conclusions.
David W. Keith, Geoffrey Holmes, David St. Angelo, and Kenton Heidel. 6/7/2018. “A Process for Capturing CO2 from the Atmosphere.” Joule. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Context & Scale
An industrial process for large-scale capture of atmospheric CO2 (DAC) serves two roles. First, as a source of CO2 for making carbon-neutral hydrocarbon fuels, enabling carbon-free energy to be converted into high-energy-density fuels. Solar fuels, for example, may be produced at high-insolation low-cost locations from DAC-CO2 and electrolytic hydrogen using gas-to-liquids technology enabling decarbonization of difficult-to-electrify sectors such as aviation. And second, DAC with CO2 sequestration allows carbon removal.

The feasibility of DAC has been disputed, in part, because publications have not provided sufficient engineering detail to allow independent evaluation of costs. We provide an engineering cost basis for a commercial DAC system for which all major components are either drawn from well-established commercial heritage or described in sufficient detail to allow assessment by third parties. This design reflects roughly 100 person-years of development by Carbon Engineering.

Summary
We describe a process for capturing CO2 from the atmosphere in an industrial plant. The design captures ∼1 Mt-CO2/year in a continuous process using an aqueous KOH sorbent coupled to a calcium caustic recovery loop. We describe the design rationale, summarize performance of the major unit operations, and provide a capital cost breakdown developed with an independent consulting engineering firm. We report results from a pilot plant that provides data on performance of the major unit operations. We summarize the energy and material balance computed using an Aspen process simulation. When CO2 is delivered at 15 MPa, the design requires either 8.81 GJ of natural gas, or 5.25 GJ of gas and 366 kWhr of electricity, per ton of CO2 captured. Depending on financial assumptions, energy costs, and the specific choice of inputs and outputs, the levelized cost per ton CO2 captured from the atmosphere ranges from 94 to 232 $/t-CO2.

Thomas Stoerk, Gernot Wagner, and Robert ET Ward. 6/4/2018. “Recommendations for Improving the Treatment of Risk and Uncertainty in Economic Estimates of Climate Impacts in the Sixth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Report.” Review of Environmental Economics and Policy. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Large discrepancies persist between projections of the physical impacts of climate change and economic damage estimates. These discrepancies increase with increasing global average temperature projections. Based on this observation, we recommend that in its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) improve its approach to the management of the uncertainties inherent in climate policy decisions. In particular, we suggest that the IPCC (1) strengthen its focus on applications of decision making under risk, uncertainty, and outright ambiguity and (2) estimate how the uncertainty itself affects its economic and financial cost estimates of climate damage and, ultimately, the optimal price for each ton of carbon dioxide released. Our hope is that by adopting these recommendations, AR6 will be able to resolve some of the documented inconsistencies in estimates of the physical and economic impacts of climate change and more effectively fulfill the IPCC’s mission to provide policymakers with a robust and rigorous approach for assessing the potential future risks of climate change.
Sebastian D. Eastham, Debra K. Weisenstein, David W. Keith, and Steven R. H. Barrett. 5/25/2018. “Quantifying the impact of sulfate geoengineering on mortality from air quality and UV-B exposure.” Atmospheric Environment. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Sulfate geoengineering is a proposed method to partially counteract the global radiative forcing from accumulated greenhouse gases, potentially mitigating some impacts of climate change. While likely to be effective in slowing increases in average temperatures and extreme precipitation, there are known side-effects and potential unintended consequences which have not been quantified. One such consequence is the direct human health impact. Given the significant uncertainties, we take a sensitivity approach to explore the mechanisms and range of potential impacts. Using a chemistry-transport model, we quantify the steady-state response of three public health risks to 1 °C global mean surface cooling. We separate impacts into those which are “radiative forcing-driven”, associated with climate change “reversal” through modification of global radiative forcing, and those “direct impacts” associated uniquely with using sulfate geoengineering to achieve this. We find that the direct (non-radiative forcing driven) impact is a decrease in global mortality of ∼13,000 annually. Here the benefits of reduced ozone exposure exceed increases in mortality due to UV and particulate matter, as each unit of injected sulfur incurs 1/25th the particulate matter exposure of a unit of sulfur emitted from surface sources. This reduction is exceeded by radiative forcing-driven health impacts resulting from using sulfate geoengineering to offset 1 °C of surface temperature rise. Increased particulate matter formation at these lower temperatures results in ∼39,000 mortalities which would have been avoided at higher temperatures. As such we estimate that sulfate geoengineering in 2040 would cause ∼26,000 (95% interval: −30,000 to +79,000) early deaths annually relative to the same year without geoengineering, largely due to the loss of health benefits associated with CO2-induced warming. These results account only for impacts due to changes in air quality and UV-B flux. They do not account for non-mortality impacts or changes in atmospheric dynamics, and must be considered in the wider context of other climate change impacts such as heatwave frequency and sea level rise.
Aseem Mahajan, Dustin Tingley, and Gernot Wagner. 5/2018. “Fast, cheap, and imperfect? U.S. public opinion about solar geoengineering.” Environmental Politics. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Solar geoengineering, which seeks to cool the planet by reflecting a small fraction of sunlight back into space, has drawn the attention of scientists and policymakers as climate change remains unabated. Unlike mitigation, solar geoengineering could quickly and cheaply lower global temperatures. It is also imperfect. Its environmental impacts remain unpredictable, and its low cost and immediate effects may result in “moral hazard,” potentially crowding out costly mitigation efforts. There is little understanding about how the public will respond to such tradeoffs. To address this, a 1,000-subject nationally representative poll focused on solar geoengineering was conducted as part of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) of the US electorate in October-November 2016. The importance that individuals place on solar geoengineering’s speed and cost predicts their support for it, but there is little to no relationship between their concerns about its shortcomings and support for its research and use. Acquiescence bias appears to be an important factor for attitudes around solar geoengineering and moral hazard.
Andy Parker, Joshua Horton, and David Keith. 5/16/2018. “Stopping Solar Geoengineering Through Technical Means: A Preliminary Assessment of Counter-Geoengineering.” Earth's Future. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Counter-geoengineering is the idea that a country might seek or threaten to counteract the cooling effect of solar geoengineering through technical means. Although this concept has been mentioned with increasing frequency in commentary on geoengineering, it has received little scholarly attention. We offer a preliminary analysis. We begin by distinguishing two kinds of counter-geoengineering: countervailing with a warming agent, and neutralising with a physical disruption. Based on this distinction, we review prior suggestions and describe novel methods by which either method might be accomplished, within the constraints imposed by deep technical uncertainties and substantial technical challenges. We then reflect on the strategic requirements and motivations for developing counter geoengineering and use a simple game-theoretic framework to demonstrate how counter-geoengineering might interact with the free-driver dynamic of solar geoengineering to shape climate geopolitics. We find that any state that could credibly threaten counter-geoengineering would effectively have a veto over the use of solar geoengineering, which could reduce the prospects of unilateral deployment. Alternatively, the development of geoengineering and countergeoengineering capabilities could lead to dangerous brinkmanship. We conclude that the development of counter-geoengineering would face considerable practical obstacles and would signal continuing political failure to manage climate risks on a cooperative basis.

Gernot Wagner and Martin L. Weitzman. 7/2018. “Potentially large equilibrium climate sensitivity tail uncertainty.” Economics Letters, 168, Pp. 144-6. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS), the link between concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and eventual global average temperatures, has been persistently and perhaps deeply uncertain. Its ‘likely’ range has been approximately between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees Centigrade for almost 40 years (Wagner and Weitzman, 2015). Moreover, Roe and Baker (2007), Weitzman (2009), and others have argued that its right-hand tail may be long, ‘fat’ even. Enter Cox et al. (2018), who use an ’emergent constraint’ approach to characterize the probability distribution of ECS as having a central or best estimate of 2.8℃ with a 66% confidence interval of 2.2-3.4℃. This implies, by their calculations, that the probability of ECS exceeding 4.5℃ is less than 1%. They characterize such kind of result as “renewing hope that we may yet be able to avoid global warming exceeding 2[℃]”. We share the desire for less uncertainty around ECS (Weitzman, 2011; Wagner and Weitzman, 2015). However, we are afraid that the upper-tail emergent constraint on ECS is largely a function of the assumed normal error terms in the regression analysis. We do not attempt to evaluate Cox et al. (2018)’s physical modeling (aside from the normality assumption), leaving that task to physical scientists. We take Cox et al. (2018)’s 66% confidence interval as given and explore the implications of applying alternative probability distributions. We find, for example, that moving from a normal to a log-normal distribution, while giving identical probabilities for being in the 2.2-3.4℃ range, increases the probability of exceeding 4.5℃ by over five times. Using instead a fat-tailed Pareto distribution, an admittedly extreme case, increases the probability by over forty times.
Jordan P. Smith, John Dykema, and David Keith. 4/2/2018. “Production of Sulfates Onboard an Aircraft: Implications for the Cost and Feasibility of Stratospheric Solar Geoengineering.” Earth and Space Science. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Injection of sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere, a form of solar geoengineering, has been proposed as a means to reduce some climatic changes by decreasing net anthropogenic radiative forcing. The cost and technical feasibility of forming aerosols with the appropriate size distribution are uncertain. We examine the possibility of producing the relevant sulfur species, SOor SO3, by in situ conversion fromelemental sulfur onboard an aircraft. We provide afirst-order engineering analysis of an open cycle chemicalplant for in situ sulfur to sulfate conversion using a Brayton cycle combustor and a catalytic converter. We find that such a plant could have sufficiently low mass that the overall requirement for mass transport to the lower stratosphere may be reduced by roughly a factor of 2. All else equal, this suggests that—for a given radiative forcing—the cost of delivering sulfate aerosols may be nearly halved. Beyond reducing cost, the use of elemental sulfur reduces operational health and safety risks and should therefore reduce environmental side effects associated with delivery. Reduction in cost is not necessarily beneficial as it reduces practical barriers to deployment, increasing the urgency of questions concerningthe efficacy, risks, and governance of solar geoengineering.
Douglas G. MacMartin, Katharine L. Ricke, and David W. Keith. 4/2/2018. “Solar geoengineering as part of an overall strategy for meeting the 1.5°C Paris target.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 376, 2119.Abstract
Solar geoengineering refers to deliberately reducing net radiative forcing by reflecting some sunlight back to space, in order to reduce anthropogenic climate changes; a possible such approach would be adding aerosols to the stratosphere. If future mitigation proves insufficient to limit the rise in global mean temperature to less than 1.5°C above preindustrial, it is plausible that some additional and limited deployment of solar geoengineering could reduce climate damages. That is, these approaches could eventually be considered as part of an overall strategy to manage the risks of climate change, combining emissions reduction, net-negative emissions technologies and solar geoengineering to meet climate goals. We first provide a physical science review of current research, research trends and some of the key gaps in knowledge that would need to be addressed to support informed decisions. Next, since few climate model simulations have considered these limited-deployment scenarios, we synthesize prior results to assess the projected response if solar geoengineering were used to limit global mean temperature to 1.5°C above preindustrial in an overshoot scenario that would otherwise peak near 3°C. While there are some important differences, the resulting climate is closer in many respects to a climate where the 1.5°C target is achieved through mitigation alone than either is to the 3◦C climate with no geoengineering. This holds for both regional temperature and precipitation changes; indeed, there are no regions where a majority of models project that this moderate level of geoengineering would produce a statistically significant shift in precipitation further away from preindustrial levels. This article is part of the theme issue ‘The Paris Agreement: understanding the physical and social challenges for a warming world of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels’.
Sebastian D. Eastham, David W. Keith, and Steven R. H. Barrett. 3/9/2018. “Mortality tradeoff between air quality and skin cancer from changes in stratospheric ozone.” Environmental Research Letters, 13, 3. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Skin cancer mortality resulting from stratospheric ozone depletion has been widely studied. Similarly, there is a deep body of literature on surface ozone and its health impacts, with modeling and observational studies demonstrating that surface ozone concentrations can be increased when stratospheric air mixes to the Earth's surface. We offer the first quantitative estimate of the trade-off between these two effects, comparing surface air quality benefits and UV-related harms from stratospheric ozone depletion. Applying an idealized ozone loss term in the stratosphere of a chemistry-transport model for modern-day conditions, we find that each Dobson unit of stratospheric ozone depletion results in a net decrease in the global annual mortality rate of ~40 premature deaths per billion population (d/bn/DU). The impacts are spatially heterogeneous in sign and magnitude, composed of a reduction in premature mortality rate due to ozone exposure of ~80 d/bn/DU concentrated in Southeast Asia, and an increase in skin cancer mortality rate of ~40 d/bn/DU, mostly in Western Europe. This is the first study to quantify air quality benefits of stratospheric ozone depletion, and the first to find that marginal decreases in stratospheric ozone around modern-day values could result in a net reduction in global mortality due to competing health impact pathways. This result, which is subject to significant methodological uncertainty, highlights the need to understand the health and environmental trade-offs involved in policy decisions regarding anthropogenic influences on ozone chemistry over the 21st century.
Kristina Mohlin, Jonathan R. Camuzeaux, Adrian Muller, Marius Schneider, and Gernot Wagner. 2/12/2018. “Factoring in the forgotten role of renewables in CO2 emission trends using decomposition analysis.” Energy Policy, 116, Pp. 290–296. Publisher's VersionAbstract
This paper introduces an approach for separately quantifying the contributions from renewables in decomposition analysis. So far, decomposition analyses of the drivers of national CO2 emissions have typically considered the combined energy mix as an explanatory factor without an explicit consideration or separation of renewables. As the cost of renewables continues to decrease, it becomes increasingly relevant to track their role in CO2 emission trends. Index decomposition analysis, in particular, provides a simple approach for doing so using publicly available data. We look to the U.S. as a case study, highlighting differences with the more detailed but also more complex structural decomposition analysis. Between 2007 and 2013, U.S. CO2 emissions decreased by around 10%—a decline not seen since the oil crisis of 1979. Prior analyses have identified the shale gas boom and the economic recession as the main explanatory factors. However, by decomposing the fuel mix effect, we conclude that renewables played an equally important role as natural gas in reducing CO2 emissions between 2007 and 2013: renewables decreased total emissions by 2.3–3.3%, roughly matching the 2.5–3.6% contribution from the shift to natural gas, compared with 0.6–1.5% for nuclear energy.
J. Paul Kelleher and Gernot Wagner. 2/2018. “Ramsey discounting calls for subtracting climate damages from economic growth rates.” Applied Economics Letters. Publisher's VersionAbstract
The Ramsey equation ties the utility discount rate and the elasticity of marginal utility of consumption together with per capita consumption growth rates to calculate consumption discount rates. For many applications, per capita consumption growth rates can be approximated with per capita output growth rates. That approximation does not work for climate change, which drives an ever-increasing and increasingly uncertain wedge between output and consumption growth. NAS (2017), in a central recommendation and illustrative example, conflates the two. The correct, consumption-based discounting method generally decreases consumption discount rates and, thus, increases the resulting Social Cost of Carbon Dioxide (SC-CO2).
Zhen Dai, Debra Weisenstein, and David Keith. 1/2018. “Tailoring Meridional and Seasonal Radiative Forcing by Sulfate Aerosol Solar Geoengineering.” Geophysical Research Letters, 45. Publisher's VersionAbstract
We study the possibility of designing solar radiation management schemes to achieve a desired meridional radiative forcing (RF) profile using a two-dimensional chemistry-transport-aerosol model. Varying SO2 or H2SO4 injection latitude, altitude, and season, we compute RF response functions for a broad range of possible injection schemes, finding that linear combinations of these injection cases can roughly achieve RF profiles that have been proposed to accomplish various climate objectives. Globally averaged RF normalized by the sulfur injection rate (the radiative efficacy) is largest for injections at high altitudes, near the equator, and using emission of H2SO4 vapor into an aircraft wake to produce accumulation-mode particles. There is a trade-off between radiative efficacy and control as temporal and spatial control is best achieved with injections at lower altitudes and higher latitudes. These results may inform studies using more realistic models that couple aerosol microphysics, chemistry, and stratospheric dynamics.
Paul Bodnar, Caroline Ott, Rupert Edwards, Stephan Hoch, Emily F. McGlynn, and Gernot Wagner. 12/4/2017. “Underwriting 1.5°C: competitive approaches to financing accelerated climate change mitigation.” Climate Policy. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Delivering emission reductions consistent with a 1.5°C trajectory will require innovative public financial instruments designed to mobilize trillions of dollars of low-carbon private investment. Traditional public subsidy instruments such as grants and concessional loans, while critical to supporting nascent technologies or high-capital-cost projects, do not provide the price signals required to shift private investments towards low-carbon alternatives at a scale. Programmes that underwrite the value of emission reductions using auctioned price floors provide price certainty over long time horizons, thus improving the cost-effectiveness of limited public funds while also catalysing private investment.

Taking lessons from the World Bank’s Pilot Auction Facility, which supports methane and nitrous oxide mitigation projects, and the United Kingdom’s Contracts for Difference programme, which supports renewable energy deployment, we show that auctioned price floors can be applied to a variety of sectors with greater efficiency and scalability than traditional subsidy instruments. We explore how this new class of instrument can enhance the cost-effectiveness of carbon pricing and complementary policies needed to achieve a 1.5°C outcome, including through large-scale adoption by the Green Climate Fund and other international and domestic climate finance vehicles.

Key policy insights

  • Traditional public climate finance interventions such as grants and concessional loans have not mobilized private capital at the scale needed to decarbonize the world economy consistent with the 2°C target, much less 1.5°C, and will likely face ongoing constraints in the future.
  • Auctioned price floors – subsidies that offer a guaranteed price for future emission reductions – maximize climate impact per public dollar while incentivizing private investment in low-carbon technologies.
  • This new subsidy instrument, if applied at scale via the Green Climate Fund and other domestic and international climate finance vehicles, can promote private sector competition to bring down technology costs and drive innovation, thereby supporting a longer term transition to regulation and sector- or economy-wide carbon markets.
  • To facilitate the transition from public subsidy to the market-based support of climate mitigation, auctioned price floors should work in tandem with carbon pricing and complementary policies, using the same accounting and monitoring, reporting and verification toolkits.
Jonas Meckling, Thomas Sterner, and Gernot Wagner. 11/13/2017. “Policy sequencing toward decarbonization.” Nature Energy. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Many economists have long held that carbon pricing—either through a carbon tax or cap-and-trade—is the most cost-effective way to decarbonize energy systems, along with subsidies for basic research and development. Meanwhile, green innovation and industrial policies aimed at fostering low-carbon energy technologies have proliferated widely. Most of these predate direct carbon pricing. Low-carbon leaders such as California and the European Union (EU) have followed a distinct policy sequence that helps overcome some of the political challenges facing low-carbon policy by building economic interest groups in support of decarbonization and reducing the cost of technologies required for emissions reductions. However, while politically effective, this policy pathway faces significant challenges to environmental and cost effectiveness, including excess rent capture and lock-in. Here we discuss options for addressing these challenges under political constraints. As countries move toward deeper emissions cuts, combining and sequencing policies will prove critical to avoid environmental, economic, and political dead-ends in decarbonizing energy systems.

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