Solar Geoengineering

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.
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.
Daniel Heyen, Joshua Horton, and Juan Moreno-Cruz. 3/20/2019. “Strategic implications of counter-geoengineering: Clash or cooperation?” Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 95, Pp. 153-177. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Solar geoengineering has received increasing attention as an option to temporarily stabilize global temperatures. A key concern is that heterogeneous preferences over the optimal amount of cooling combined with low deployment costs may allow the country with the strongest incentive for cooling, the so-called free-driver, to impose a substantial externality on the rest of the world. We analyze whether the threat of counter-geoengineering technologies capable of negating the climatic effects of solar geoengineering can overcome the free-driver problemand tilt the game in favour of international cooperation. Our game-theoreticalmodel of countries with asymmetric preferences allows for a rigorous analysis of the strategic interaction surrounding solar geoengineering and counter-geoengineering.We find that countergeoengineering prevents the free-driver outcome, but not always with benign effects. The presence of counter-geoengineering leads to either a climate clash where countries engage in a non-cooperative escalation of opposing climate interventions (negative welfare effect), a moratorium treaty where countries commit to abstain from either type of climate intervention (indeterminate welfare effect), or cooperative deployment of solar geoengineering (positivewelfare effect).We show that the outcome depends crucially on the degree of asymmetry in temperature preferences between countries.
Peter Irvine, Kerry Emanuel, Jie He, Larry Horowitz, Gabriel Vecchi, and David Keith. 3/11/2019. “Halving warming with idealized solar geoengineering moderates key climate hazards.” Nature Climate Change. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Solar geoengineering (SG) has the potential to restore average surface temperatures by increasing planetary albedo, but this could reduce precipitation. Thus, although SG might reduce globally aggregated risks, it may increase climate risks for some regions. Here, using the high-resolution forecast-oriented low ocean resolution (HiFLOR) model—which resolves tropical cyclones and has an improved representation of present-day precipitation extremes—alongside 12 models from the Geoengineering Model Intercomparison Project (GeoMIP), we analyse the fraction of locations that see their local climate change exacerbated or moderated by SG. Rather than restoring temperatures, we assume that SG is applied to halve the warming produced by doubling CO2 (half-SG). In HiFLOR, half-SG offsets most of the CO2-induced increase of simulated tropical cyclone intensity. Moreover, none of temperature, water availability, extreme temperature or extreme precipitation are exacerbated under half-SG when averaged over any Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Extremes (SREX) region. Indeed, for both extreme precipitation and water availability, less than 0.4% of the ice-free land surface sees exacerbation. Thus, while concerns about the inequality of solar geoengineering impacts are appropriate, the quantitative extent of inequality may be overstated.


Joshua B. Horton. 2018. “Parametric Insurance as an Alternative to Liability for Compensating Climate Harms.” Carbon & Climate Law Review, 12, 4, Pp. 285-296. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Interstate compensation for climate change based on legal liability faces serious obstacles. Structural incongruities related to causation, time, scope, and scale impede application of tort law to climate change, while political opposition from developed countries prevents intergovernmental consideration of liability as a means of compensating for climate damages. Insurance, however, in particular parametric insurance triggered by objective environmental indices, is emerging as a promising alternative to liability. This is manifest in the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, which ruled out recourse to legal liability, and in the formation and expansion of regional sovereign climate risk insurance schemes in the Caribbean, Africa, and the Pacific. Theory and early practice suggest that parametric insurance exhibits five key advantages compared to legal liability in the climate change context: (1) it does not require that causation be demonstrated; (2) it has evolved to provide catastrophic coverage; (3) it is oriented toward the future rather than the past; (4) it is contractual, rather than adversarial, in nature; and (5) it provides a high degree of predictability. Compensation based on parametric insurance represents a novel climate policy option with significant potential to advance climate politics.

Peter J. Irvine, David W. Keith, and John Moore. 7/27/2018. “Brief communication: Understanding solar geoengineering's potential to limit sea level rise requires attention from cryosphere experts.” The Cryosphere, 12, Pp. 2501-2513. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Stratospheric aerosol geoengineering, a form of solar geoengineering, is a proposal to add a reflective layer of aerosol to the stratosphere to reduce net radiative forcing and so to reduce the risks of climate change. The efficacy of solar geoengineering at reducing changes to the cryosphere is uncertain; solar geoengineering could reduce temperatures and so slow melt, but its ability to reverse ice sheet collapse once initiated may be limited. Here we review the literature on solar geoengineering and the cryosphere and identify the key uncertainties that research could address. Solar geoengineering may be more effective at reducing surface melt than a reduction in greenhouse forcing that produces the same global-average temperature response. Studies of natural analogues and model simulations support this conclusion. However, changes below the surfaces of the ocean and ice sheets may strongly limit the potential of solar geoengineering to reduce the retreat of marine glaciers. High-quality process model studies may illuminate these issues. Solar geoengineering is a contentious emerging issue in climate policy and it is critical that the potential, limits, and risks of these proposals are made clear for policy makers.
Joshua B. Horton, Jesse L. Reynolds, Holly Jean Buck, Daniel Callies, Stefan Schäfer, David W. Keith, and Steve Rayner. 6/28/2018. “Solar Geoengineering and Democracy.” Global Environmental Politics, Pp. 5-24. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Some scientists suggest that it might be possible to reflect a portion of incoming sunlight back into space to reduce climate change and its impacts. Others argue that such solar radiation management (SRM) geoengineering is inherently incompatible with democracy. In this article, we reject this incompatibility argument. First, we counterargue that technologies such as SRM lack innate political characteristics and predetermined social effects, and that democracy need not be deliberative to serve as a standard for governance. We then rebut each of the argument’s core claims, countering that (1) democratic institutions are sufficiently resilient to manage SRM, (2) opting out of governance decisions is not a fundamental democratic right, (3) SRM may not require an undue degree of technocracy, and (4) its implementation may not concentrate power and promote authoritarianism. Although we reject the incompatibility argument, we do not argue that SRM is necessarily, or even likely to be, democratic in practice.
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.
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.