Our second workshop in South America
To date there has been only limited South American engagement with SRM geoengineering. SRMGI (The Degrees Initiative) co-organised a workshop in Brazil in 2016, in partnership with the Brazil National Space Research Institute (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais or INPE), and in June 2019, the Brazilian Academy of Sciences followed up with a workshop exploring next steps for Brazil and South America in general. But aside from the pioneering efforts from academics such as Paulo Artaxo, Carlos Nobre, Pedro Dias, Eduardo Viola, and Pablo Suarez, there has been little sustained engagement in the region.
Things took a big step forward when a research team from the University of Buenos Aires applied for a DECIMALS grant to model how SRM could affect hydrology in the La Plata river basin. The team, consisting of Prof. Ines Camilloni (PI), Dr Carla Gulizia, Dr Natalia Montroull, and Dr Ramiro Saurral, are now half way through their research project, and will be reporting their findings in 2020. In November 2019, we partnered with the team and two local host institutions: Centro de Investigaciones del Mar y la Atmósfera (CIMA), and Instituto Franco-Argentino sobre Estudios de Clima y sus Impactos (IFAECI) at the University of Buenos Aires, to run an engagement workshop on SRM. The workshop gave an opportunity to reflect on what SRM might mean for South America and to try to plot out some next step for regional engagement.
The workshop was opened formally by Dr. Aníbal Cofone, Secretary of Science and Technology at the University of Buenos Aires, who set the scene for the day and welcomed the local and international speakers and participants. Veteran climatologist Prof. Vicente Barros (Emeritus Professor, University of Buenos Aires) presented on the climate threat to South America, giving some context to the day’s discussions. The introduction to the science and governance of SRM was given by Dr Daniel Callies (University of California, San Diego) and Andy Parker (SRMGI/Degrees), before Prof. Ines Camilloni concluded the morning’s briefings by reporting on her team’s research on the regional impacts of SRM.
What might SRM mean for the region
Briefings then gave way to panel and plenary discussion. Three distinguished local climate experts gave brief comments in order to kick-start a discussion amongst all participants. Dr Roque Pedace (University de Buenos Aires), Laura Rocha (Journalist at Infobae and Periodistas xPlaneta), and Prof. Carolina Vera (Vice-chair of WG1 of IPCC) reflected on their concerns about climate and solar geoengineering, raising issues including:
- How to compare SRM to ‘nature-based solutions’ that have the potential to pull CO2 from the air at lower risk than sun-dimming?
- What happens if the world faces a choice between passing 2C of warming and using SRM to stay below? How would that choice be made?
- How would the climate system respond to an ongoing balancing of cooling from SRM and warming from greenhouse gases? How much light can science shed on this issue, and how much will that feed into decision-making?
- Production of knowledge about SRM will be uneven around the world. What does this mean for political decisions on an essentially global technology?
- What kind of conversation is needed with the public around a technology this huge?
- What are the alternatives under consideration and who chooses this?
The panellists then led lively plenary discussions with all participants. Several people wanted to know more about the impacts of SRM – on acid rain, on agriculture, on human and animal health. It was noted quite how many impacts were poorly understood, which was a source of concern to many. Several people raised the issue of decision-making, noting that Argentina was unlikely to be able to deploy SRM but could play an important role evaluating its impacts.
One participant asked everyone to look back at the historical context and think about how humanity ever got into the situation where geoengineering was being considered. “Once again we are losing the battle to the same old winners”, he argued, noting that technologies can entrench existing power structures. But today’s conversation was welcome, he added, as the Global South is often only involved too late on. He welcomed the Argentina DECIMALS research and hoped that Southern perspectives would be considered in the global conversation.
After the lunch break, small group exercises encouraged participants to look at challenges in greater depth. On the topic of moral hazard, several people expressed concerns that SRM could distract from emissions cuts both in Argentina and elsewhere, and there was strong support for any SRM action to be linked to effective emissions reductions. Few participants thought that SRM would be used by 2040, citing a range of reasons – some thought we would not know enough to make a decision, others thought that SRM could only be used with approval of the world’s great powers, who would not be desperate enough to approve SRM use within 20 years. But others warned how quickly things might change as the impacts of climate change grew, and one feared that SRM could even be used by a rogue state as a form of extortion.
When asked how Argentina could have an influence over SRM development and/or deployment, most participants emphasised the importance of research. It would be crucial for Argentina to understand its interests to be able to effectively influence international discussions. On the issue of field research, views were mixed. Some people emphasised physical impacts and were comfortable with research that would not have environmental risks, as long as they had been properly assessed. People emphasised the importance of transparency, and one participant drew comparison with drug trials – they were useful and important but had to be properly managed.
A closing panel addressed potential next steps across South America: Susanna Ehlers (Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research, Uruguay), Dr Alfonso Fernández (Universidad de Concepción, Chile), Dr Pablo Suarez (Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre), and Prof. Eduardo Viola (University of Brasilia, Brazil). They discussed the importance of international collaboration on a topic that was inherently global, and how social science, plus broader societal engagement, were crucial accompaniments to physical science.
In his closing comments Pablo Suarez, an Argentinian veteran of more than a decade of SRM workshops, noted that this was the first time he’d ever been invited to speak to an SRM conference in Spanish, and thanked the local organisers for this pioneering event.