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.
Injecting sulfate aerosol into the stratosphere, the most frequently analyzed proposal for solar geoengineering, may reduce some climate risks, but it would also entail new risks, including ozone loss and heating of the lower tropical stratosphere, which, in turn, would increase water vapor concentration causing additional ozone loss and surface warming. We propose a method for stratospheric aerosol climate modification that uses a solid aerosol composed of alkaline metal salts that will convert hydrogen halides and nitric and sulfuric acids into stable salts to enable stratospheric geoengineering while reducing or reversing ozone depletion. Rather than minimizing reactive effects by reducing surface area using high refractive index materials, this method tailors the chemical reactivity. Specifically, we calculate that injection of calcite (CaCO3) aerosol particles might reduce net radiative forcing while simultaneously increasing column ozone toward its preanthropogenic baseline. A radiative forcing of −1 W⋅m−2, for example, might be achieved with a simultaneous 3.8% increase in column ozone using 2.1 Tg⋅y−1 of 275-nm radius calcite aerosol. Moreover, the radiative heating of the lower stratosphere would be roughly 10-fold less than if that same radiative forcing had been produced using sulfate aerosol. Although solar geoengineering cannot substitute for emissions cuts, it may supplement them by reducing some of the risks of climate change. Further research on this and similar methods could lead to reductions in risks and improved efficacy of solar geoengineering methods.
Public views and values about solar geoengineering should be incorporated in science-policy decisions, if decision makers want to act in the public interest. In reflecting on the past decade of research, we review around 30 studies investigating public familiarity with, and views about, solar geoengineering. A number of recurring patterns emerge: (1) general unfamiliarity with geoengineering among publics; (2) the importance of artifice versus naturalness; (3) some conditional support for certain kinds of research; and (4) nuanced findings on the “moral hazard” and “reverse moral hazard” hypotheses, with empirical support for each appearing under different circumstances and populations. We argue that in the coming decade, empirical social science research on solar geoengineering will be crucial, and should be integrated with physical scientific research.
The literature on the costs of climate change often draws a link between climatic ‘tipping points’ and large economic shocks, frequently called ‘catastrophes’. The phrase ‘tipping points’ in this context can be misleading. In popular and social scientific discourse, ‘tipping points’ involve abrupt state changes. For some climatic ‘tipping points,’ the commitment to a state change may occur abruptly, but the change itself may be rate-limited and take centuries or longer to realize. Additionally, the connection between climatic ‘tipping points’ and economic losses is tenuous, though emerging empirical and process-model-based tools provide pathways for investigating it. We propose terminology to clarify the distinction between ‘tipping points’ in the popular sense, the critical thresholds exhibited by climatic and social ‘tipping elements,’ and ‘economic shocks’. The last may be associated with tipping elements, gradual climate change, or non-climatic triggers. We illustrate our proposed distinctions by surveying the literature on climatic tipping elements, climatically sensitive social tipping elements, and climate-economic shocks, and we propose a research agenda to advance the integrated assessment of all three.
Side effects resulting from the deliberate injection of sulfate aerosols intended to partially offset climate change have motivated the investigation of alternatives, including solid aerosol materials. Sulfate aerosols warm the tropical tropopause layer, increasing the flux of water vapor into the stratosphere, accelerating ozone loss, and increasing radiative forcing. The high refractive index of some solid materials may lead to reduction in these risks. We present a new analysis of the scattering efficiency and absorption of a range of candidate solid aerosols. We utilize a comprehensive radiative transfer model driven by updated, physically consistent estimates of optical properties. We compute the potential increase in stratospheric water vapor and associated longwave radiative forcing. We find that the stratospheric heating calculated in this analysis indicates some materials to be substantially riskier than previous work. We also find that there are Earth-abundant materials that may reduce some principal known risks relative to sulfate aerosols.
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.