First SRM engagement workshop in Côte d’Ivoire
On 3 September 2019, SRMGI (The Degrees Initiative) co-organised an engagement workshop on the science and governance of SRM geoengineering in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, in cooperation with the University Felix Houphoüet-Boigny and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research of Côte d’Ivoire. The event was held at the Scientific and Innovation Center of Félix Houphouët-Boigny University and over 120 participants, making it our largest event to date. It was our second event held entirely in the (non-English) local language, allowing for broad participation. We were pleased that it was attended by representatives of all three DECIMALS research projects it funds in Africa: Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and South Africa.
A workshop under the aegis of Dr Abdallah Albert Toikeusse Mabri
The workshop began with an opening address by Professor Germain Gourène, Inspector General of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, speaking on behalf of the Minister, Dr Abdallah Albert Toikeusse Mabri. Prof. Gourène reflected on the scale of the climate threat faced by West African nations, and spoke of the importance of having a critical conversation on SRM in Côte d’Ivoire: “Climate change is a phenomenon of long time-scales, but we cannot wait to act. And as climate change will intensify in the near future, we need to explore palliative solutions in the face of rising temperatures”.
Andy Parker welcomed the participants on behalf of the SRM Governance Initiative, and reviewed the objectives of the day. He emphasised the importance of building developing country capacity to evaluate SRM, noting that most SRM research and discussion has to date taken place in the Global North, while the climate-vulnerable countries of the Global South would be most affected by decisions to use or reject SRM.
The local climate context
Following the opening ceremony, Franck Anvou and Dr Eric-Michel Assamoi (both from the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development), and Coulibaly Kolotiolama (from SODEXAM, Côte d’Ivoire’s State Company responsible for the management, operations and development of airports, meteorological and aeronautical activities) gave the first talks of the day, on the local climate context and Côte d’Ivoire’s climate change strategy.
Mr Anvou emphasised the vulnerability of the region, explaining how the climate impacts already being felt in Côte d’Ivoire were a taste of things to come: an increase in wildfires, droughts and floods, sea level rise, and declining agricultural yields. In Côte d’Ivoire, the PNCC (National Climate Change Program) was created by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development in 2012 to tackle these issues, he continued, before giving the floor to Dr Eric-Michel Assamoi, PNCC’s Director.
Dr Assamoi gave an overview of climate discussions at the international level, before presenting the projections on which Cote d’Ivoire’s nationally determined contributions are based in the frame of the Paris Agreements – namely a 28% decrease in GHG emissions by 2030, to be achieved mainly through energy policies.
Coulibaly Kolotiolama, speaking on behalf of SODEXAM, then presented the key climate variability indicators for the country and how they are already being impacted by climate change. He noted that rainfall has been reducing in the south of the country over the last few decades while temperatures have been rising in the north.
Introducing SRM: the science and socio-political dimensions
François Pougel (SRMGI/Degrees) delivered the workshop’s overview briefing on the scientific and socio-political dimensions of SRM, before Dr Vami Herman N’Guessan Bi presented on the state of Ivorian SRM research. Dr Vami is PI of a research project exploring how SRM could affect extreme precipitation, temperatures and water resources in West and Central Africa. The project is one of three in Africa funded by our DECIMALS Fund.
The research is only at its midpoint and so didn’t have any results or conclusions to share, but Dr Vami’s presentation garnered a great deal of interest from the participants, who were very pleased that a local research team was a pioneer in this field and one of the first three SRM research projects in Africa. Dr Vami concluded by inviting the local research community to join him working on the topic of SRM, so as to better understand its implications and strengthen Côte d’Ivoire’s scientific capacities on the subject.
Citing the importance and pioneering nature of the Ivorian DECIMALS research, Professor Pétronille Zengbé-Acray, Director General of Research and Innovation of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MESRS), promised that the DECIMALS team would have the necessary access to High-Performance Computing Center. The offer was warmly received by the workshop participants.
Panel discussion: West African perspectives
The workshop continued with a panel discussion that featured five distinguished speakers from the region: Mireille Adhepeau (ASDERA), Richmond Assie (UNDP), Prof. Pauline Dibi Kangah (IGT, Université Felix Houphoüet-Boigny), Siaka Traoré (Prime Minister’s Office) and Dr Romaric C. Odoulami (University of Cape Town). They reflected upon the considerable challenges raised by the prospect of solar geoengineering.
Ms Adhepeau highlighted the need for more modeling research in order to better understand the impacts of SRM, joined by Mr Assie who emphasised the importance of transparency in such controversial research. He called for researchers to share their results on a common database so as to give developing countries access to reliable data on the matter.
Prof. Dibi Kangah wondered about the physical risks from larger scale field research and deployment and in particular concerns regarding the possible consequences of SRM on rainfall and therefore on agriculture, Mr Siaka expressed his desire to see more SRM research projects getting funding. He emphasised the need for future projects to be multi-disciplinary and policy-relevant in order to receive funding. Building on the comments of Mr Assie, he also encouraged the creation of an institutional repository to facilitate access to data and publications.
Dr Odoulami clarified a number of concepts related to SRM and insisted on the need to understand if SRM could be part of a portfolio of approaches to reduce the impacts of climate change.
Small group discussion
After the lunch break, the speaking roles were reversed, with interactive sessions that prioritised participant discussions. Working in groups of 6-8 people, the participants addressed some of the most challenging issues of SRM research and governance.
One question asked about the ‘moral hazard’ risk – the concern that SRM could distract policymakers from reducing CO2 emissions. Many of the participants said they feared it would indeed distract politicians both in Cote d’Ivoire and around the world and one suggested that a solution could be to increase awareness of the characteristics and limitations of SRM. Another concluded that “SRM may be one solution, but not the only solution”, also emphasising the importance of good communication. Dr Odoulami added that it is indeed important to note that SRM would not tackle GHG emissions but only mask the associated increased temperatures.
Participants were then asked how they think Côte d’Ivoire could influence any international decisions on SRM – whether for or against. Many participants felt that developing countries would struggle to get their voices heard, but not all. Some felt that that Côte d’Ivoire’s regional economic strengths could give it regional clout, while others felt that leading in research could help Ivory Coast lead a coalition of Southern countries. One last proposal was the creation of a network of SRM experts who could inform and influence the debate in the region and beyond.
The last question, perhaps the most hotly debated, was about SRM research outside the laboratory. Participants were given a description of an experiment that is being planned by a team at Harvard, which would involve releasing a small amount of calcium carbonate into the stratosphere to test the localised effects on atmospheric chemistry. The experiment would not carry physical or environmental risks but some people have expressed concerns that it would have negative socio-political impacts. The workshop groups were asked if they welcomed the experiment or not, and what information they would want if the decision to approve or reject the research were up to them.
The majority of the participants said they wanted extensive indoors research before proceeding to an outdoors SRM experiment because of uncertainties around the potential consequences of environmental experimentation. Some participants raised concerns about the impacts of releasing even one kilogram of sulfur into the stratosphere, although other tables disagreed that would be physically risky. Others said they would be comfortable with field experiments that were not physically risky.
After his last session, Andy Parker and Professor Soro, representing Professor Pétronille Zengbé-Acray (MERS), delivered their closing comments to the audience, closing a vibrant workshop marked by the active involvement of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and the presence of representatives from all African DECIMALS teams.
Mireille Adhepeau (NGO ASDERA)
Franck Anvou (Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development)
Dr Eric-Michel Assamoi (Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development)
Richmond Assie (UNDP)
Dr Arona Diedhiou (Université Grenoble‐Alpes and Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny)
Prof. Germain Gourène (Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research)
Coulibaly Kolotiolama (SODEXAM)
Dr Vami Hermann N’Guessan Bi (CURAT, Université Félix Houphoüet-Boigny)
Prof. Pauline Dibi Kangah (IGT, Université Félix Houphoüet-Boigny)
Dr Romaric C. Odoulami (University of Cape Town)
Andy Parker (SRMGI/The Degrees Initiative)
François Pougel (SRMGI/The Degrees Initiative)
Prof. Soro (Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research)
Siaka Traoré (Prime Minister’s Office)
The meeting was featured in the online (Infodrome, FRATMAT.info) and printed press (L’Inter, Soir Info), the websites of IRD, CAMES and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.