After all is said and done, humans may still need to develop reflective technologies in order to reset the Earth’s natural thermostat, says a new report from Britain’s top science academy.
Against a backdrop of upcoming climate treaty talks, the U.K.’s national academy of science Royal Society released a report, "Geoengineering the climate," that details the need for more research in order to head off a “planetary catastrophe.”
Carbon dioxide, one of the main culprits of global warming and pollution, has been released into the air for thousands of years, from burning forests to clear farmland and more recently burn fossil fuels in the industrial revolution. From the insurance industry’s perspective, the larger risk management issues are still unknown.
Not considered an alternative to cutting emissions, the report’s authors describe the importance of geoengineering as a way to create an insurance policy against the ultimate results of a warming climate.
"Nothing should divert us from the priority of reducing global carbon dioxide emissions and ensuring that the December meeting in Copenhagen does lead to real progress," said Royal Society President Martin Rees in a Reuters report. “But if such reductions achieve too little too late, there will be surely pressure to contemplate a plan B."
Growing interest in geoengineering is partly motivated by a "false hope of a quick fix," Rees said in the report, and Greenpeace's Doug Parr said that polluters would seize upon it.
Britain's chief scientific adviser, John Beddington, supported more research, however. "They are part of the solution," he said of the technology, and painted a bleak picture for the planet.
"There's an enormous 'if' whether there'll be comprehensive action agreed upon in Copenhagen, whether it's going to be enough. There are also going to be (climate) emergencies and surprises," he said, referring to the "devastating" risk of more acidic oceans as a result of carbon emissions.
Geoengineering technologies can be divided between those that remove the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and those that reflect sunlight back into space.
Such technologies are now limited to the laboratory. The Royal Society report called for a 10-year, 100-million pound ($163.2 million) British research program, a tenfold increase over existing funding.
The report supported steps to remove CO2 from the air above others because they addressed the underlying problem of too many heat-trapping gases and, therefore, were more predictable and would fight not only climate change, but also acidifying oceans.
If the Earth suddenly pitched into a different, hotter climate, however, the world may need to reflect back some sunlight, for example, by shooting highly reflective aerosols into the atmosphere, the report said.
That would introduce a new influence on the Earth's climate besides greenhouse gases and making it less predictable, especially if not applied across the whole atmosphere, note the report’s authors.
"You could actually seriously and adversely impact one of the most critical weather patterns on the planet," said lead author John Shepherd, referring to disruption of the monsoon.
Register or login for access to this item and much more
All Digital Insurance content is archived after seven days.
Community members receive:
- All recent and archived articles
- Conference offers and updates
- A full menu of enewsletter options
- Web seminars, white papers, ebooks
Already have an account? Log In
Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access