Fossil energy, the main source of greenhouse gases, is at the core of the world economy and the transition towards clean energy systems faces strong opposition from interest groups. The aim of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, to keep global warming between 1.5 and 2°C, will slip out of reach in just a few years. The world will then be on course for changes that may be uncontrollable.
We are already seeing some of them today, such as the melting of Arctic sea ice, heat waves and intensified natural disasters.
What can we do to avoid it?
To prevent dangerous and uncontrollable consequences of climate change, the world needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions quickly and deeply. Despite 30 years of diplomatic efforts in the United Nations and elsewhere, the prospects of doing so look increasingly dim.
Our research project on “issue frames in the global governance of geoengineering”, funded by the Lithuanian Research Council and the EU structural funds, looks into the international policy debate on this matter.
The broader outlook is far from positive: governments are not preparing for the large-scale use of Negative Emissions Technologies. They are also not taking the necessary steps for, instead, rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions from energy systems and other sources.
Since societies appear unable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough, scientists are looking for alternatives. Almost all climate models show that, to stay below 2°C global warming, we must artificially remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. So-called Negative Emissions Technologies would absorb carbon dioxide in ocean biomass or capture it from the air with factory-sized vacuum cleaners.
Not everyone has the same opinion
This increases the probability that, in order to prevent dangerous and uncontrollable climatic changes, they will use highly risky and experimental technologies for solar radiation management instead. For the time being, European governments strictly oppose this idea.
On the other side of the Atlantic, things look different. At the same time that the US is about to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, Republican lawmakers show increasing enthusiasm for federal research into solar climate engineering. The US faces significant risk from climate change and is one of the very few countries that could deploy a solar filter all by itself.
As everything, it requires consensus
Over the long term, the best way to prevent a scenario of unilateral use will be some form of multilateral commitment towards the controlled use of either negative emissions or solar radiation management. As traditional climate policy is reaching the point of no return, a decision will need to be made sooner rather than later.
Based on the research project “Issue frames in the global governance of geoengineering”, funded by the Lithuanian Research Council and the EU structural funds (Project Nr. 09.3.3-LMT-K-712-03-0098) implemented by Dr. Florian Rabitz and Leta Bielinytė.