Solar Radiation Modification: Why young people must have a say

Photo: UNclimatechange via Flickr

Solar Radiation Modification: Why young people must have a say

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Date: 7th July 2023
Type: Feature

Solar Radiation Modification (SRM) technology is rapidly advancing and is seriously being considered as a method to artificially cool the planet. However, it raises significant ethical, environmental, political and social issues and will have far reaching consequences for the whole world if it is deployed. Since it will impact the lives of future generations, it is imperative that young people have a say in whether it is developed and how it may impact the most climate-affected countries and communities.

At a time when most countries have pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050-2060, it is important not to forget that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections show that it is now more likely than not that the 1.5°C global warming threshold will be reached, even under the very low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions scenario. Moreover, recent IPCC and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports show that current climate mitigation efforts are still insufficient to limit GHG emissions and that mitigation after 2030 can no longer establish a pathway that limits global warming to 1.5°C without significant overshoot during the 21st century. 

As a result, complementary tools and measures are being researched to limit the negative effects of climate change. One of them, SRM, is under serious consideration for its potential to artificially cool the planet. This method comes in various forms, the most researched variation involves injecting reflective particles into the atmosphere to prevent parts of solar radiation from entering the Earth’s surface and further warming it. Such technology can theoretically decrease global temperatures. However, this method does not address GHG emissions, the root cause of the problem, and its side effects are still not completely understood. 

Solar Radiation Modification is a controversial and rapidly advancing field of technology, whose development and deployment come with significant potential environmental, ethical, political and social implications that require effective governance, be it to control this technology, impose a moratorium or ban it, among others. In addition, once SRM is deployed, its consequences, whether beneficial or detrimental, will affect the entire globe. In-depth international discussions and governance on this issue are consequently more urgent than ever, a call also recently made by UNEP.

Current state of knowledge

When it comes to the expected impacts of SRM deployment, current research (for example, MacMartin et al, 2022 and Reynolds, 2019) highlights both positive and negative aspects. Globally, rainfall patterns could be affected by the deployment of SRM. In some areas, such as the La Plata Basin in South America, an increase in rainfall could be seen positively, as it improves water availability and replenishes river basins, however it could also intensify flooding and landslides. Disrupted rainfall patterns, on the other hand, could also intensify droughts, which would be particularly detrimental to global South countries whose economies are heavily dependent on agriculture and who already struggle with food security. An increase in crop yields, changes in cyclone patterns, threats to biodiversity, and the spread of diseases like malaria are some additional effects of SRM deployment. This is especially true when you take into account the sudden temperature changes that can occur when SRM deployment is stopped (a phenomenon known as termination shock).  

Projects like the Degrees Initiative have been trying to strengthen the capacity of developing countries to become active players in SRM research and governance. However, there is still a lack of inclusion in this field, and a lack of public awareness about SRM, especially in the communities most impacted by the climate crisis. It is essential that communities are better informed and included in decisions about the various options being considered to enhance their livelihoods.

Inclusive SRM governance: Balancing risks and opportunities for developing countries

As much as we need global discussions about SRM governance, they need to be inclusive, open and better involve developing countries as active decision-makers on the matter. At the moment, research on SRM and climate modelling to assess the environmental and social impacts of emerging technologies are largely led by countries from the global North and therefore take little account of the reality of countries from the global South. 

On the one hand, serious risks would arise in the case of unilateral or non-internationally concerted SRM deployment, be it by groups of countries or private companies. Moreover, some may see SRM as a new facet of neo-colonialism towards developing countries, with a deployment that would be uniquely decided by developed countries without any accountability mechanisms regarding potential negative consequences.

On the other hand, if multilateralism is strengthened and if global South countries are empowered and given the resources to conduct research and involve local communities to create policies, SRM could also be seen as a relief to climate-vulnerable areas that have already been struggling and are bound to further suffer in the coming years. In both scenarios, however, SRM cannot be seen as a magical solution to the climate crisis, but rather as an alleviation mechanism. 

The role of young people in shaping SRM policies

Discussing SRM policies demands long-term thinking, as it mainly impacts the lives of young people and future generations. Young people of today will inherit the world's future, so their involvement in the governance of SRM is essential. Climate change is already affecting their lives and will continue to do so in more profound ways as they grow older. It is therefore only fair that they have a say in its development and deployment. As a consequence, it is vital to take youth voices into account and consider them as fully empowered and respected actors when defining policies with long-term effects.

Young people bring a fresh perspective to the table, one that is critical to developing innovative solutions to ensure a long-term success of SRM governance. They are tech-savvy and through proper training and access to information, they have the ability to understand and provide unique perspectives and contributions to the technological advancements that are critical to the fair development of SRM. By being directly involved in SRM research and development, young scientists would have the potential to influence the trajectory and potential outcomes of SRM governance.

Young people's participation in the governance of SRM will help to ensure that the technology is developed and deployed in a responsible and sustainable manner. Additionally, involving young people in the governance of SRM will help foster a sense of ownership and responsibility for the technology. This will lead to a more informed and engaged public and will help to ensure that the technology is considered and possibly used in a way that is transparent, accountable and inclusive.

It is time for the young generation to take an active role in the governance of emerging climate technologies to ensure that they are used for the benefit of all and not just for the benefit of a few.

C2G’s youth voices in emerging climate governance project

Youth voices are largely absent from emerging international discussions on the governance of SRM. To help address this, C2G recently commenced an exciting new project – Youth Voices for Emerging Climate Governance. This project aims to build the capacity of a small group of young people to learn about the need for strengthening governance for SRM and catalyse the same learning amongst their peers. 

In the first phase of the project a cohort of six ‘Youth Climate Voices’ from six countries – Brazil, Bangladesh, France, India, Rwanda and Uganda, are being supported to develop their knowledge of the science, governance, and varying perspectives around SRM. In the second phase they will be supported to develop resources and activities to share their learning and strengthen the contribution of youth voices in international discussions around SRM and its governance.

Learn more about the authors here.

Youth Voices for Emerging Climate Governance-Author images
Authors: Clara Botto, Sarah Kwerit, Loann Marquant, Aasima Kamal Mowni



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