SRM Engagement Workshop in Mexico City
On 18-19 April 2023, the Degrees Initiative and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) held a joint outreach workshop titled ‘Geoingeniería solar: implicaciones para Centroamérica y México’.
The two-day workshop, held in the UNAM Botanical Gardens in Mexico City, was attended by NGOs, government agencies and academics from Mexico and Panama. Discussions focused on the scientific and socio-political dimensions of solar radiation modification (SRM) and the future of SRM research in the region.
In a brief opening session, Prof. Amparo Martinez (Senior Researcher, UNAM Institute of Atmospheric Sciences & Climate Change) set the scene by outlining the positions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the Government of Mexico, on SRM, highlighting concerns about the potential impacts of the technology. She stressed the need to develop informed perspectives based on scientific evidence and not ignorance.
Dr José Manuel Saniger Blesa (Secretary of Scientific Research, Development and Coordination, UNAM) outlined his department’s position as one of learning. Initially sceptical, he emphasised that SRM represents one possible tool of many in the fight against climate change. He said that further research is required to determine if it is a tool to be considered seriously.
Presentations on climate risks and SRM
The first session focused on information exchange, opening with a presentation on climate risks in Mexico and Central America by Dr Francisco Estrada (Coordinator, UNAM Climate Change Research Program). He outlined the severity of climate impacts in Mexico based on different warming scenarios and mapped how these are projected to negatively affect the Mexican economy across different sectors.
Andy Parker (CEO, the Degrees Initiative) then gave an introduction to SRM – what it is, what it might do, and the physical and socio-political implications. This was followed by an open discussion of SRM and its potential impacts.
A participant voiced concerns about the governance of SRM and unilateral deployment, saying “We saw with COVID-19 it was difficult to come to a consensus, for all sides of the UN to make a decision, but what if it is Elon Musk [who implements SRM]?” This concern was echoed by others, who also discussed the potential impacts of SRM on ecosystems, health and rural communities.
In response, Prof. Inés Camilloni from the University of Buenos Aires agreed with concerns about unilateral deployment, but argued that this is one of the reasons it is so important for developing countries to be involved in SRM research: “Our countries [must] generate information that is relevant to the decision making of those who represent us.”
Another participant recognised the need for further research to better understand the risks of SRM but was concerned about the risks of large-scale experimentation, given the large uncertainties around SRM’s impact: “How can you do research without experimentation that works to generate results that are useful for decision-making?”
Prof. Camilloni responded that policy-relevant knowledge could be learned from modelling and small-scale lab-based research and that, in her view, larger-scale experimentation should be governed by international organisations and based on scientific assessments of the risks involved.
A participant challenged the risk vs risk framing used to assess the risks of SRM against those of climate change saying, “It cannot be only risk vs risk, because as already mentioned, there are many risks [to SRM] that are not known.” Andy Parker agreed that there are many risks of SRM that are not known – as there are about a warmed world without SRM. He stated that further research is required to compare the risks of SRM with the risks of climate change, because this should be the basis for decision-making.
SRM research in Latin America
After a break, Chris Guillot from the American Geophysical Union (AGU) gave a presentation on the ethics of solar geoengineering research, stressing the importance of broad deliberation and encouraging participants to engage with the AGU’s new ethical framework for climate intervention.
Participants heard from Degrees Modelling Fund (DMF) scientists working across Latin America, including Prof. Camilloni, Prof. Alfonso Fernandez from Chile and Prof. Michelle Simões Reboita from Brazil.
Degrees Communications and Programmes Officer Nick Zúñiga moderated a group discussion on the research and risks of SRM and climate change.
Panel session: perspectives from Central America and Mexico
The last session of the day was a panel which included Dr Amparo Martinez, Dr Carlos Gay (Researcher, UNAM Institute of Atmospheric Sciences & Climate Change), Dr Marisa Mazari (Researcher, UNAM Department of Ecology) and Dr Graciela Raga (Researcher, UNAM Institute of Atmospheric Sciences & Climate Change) and was moderated by Dr Estrada.
Prof. Amparo Martinez opened with a short presentation outlining the risks of climate change and SRM. She challenged SRM’s singular focus on reducing temperatures, suggesting that it was essential to consider other climate variables. She concluded, “What I would say is more important than implementation is research. We have to do the research, we have to improve our understanding.”
Making a similar point, Dr Estrada emphasised that climate impacts were increasing and not trivial, stressing that all options have to be considered evenly given the scale of the problem at hand.
Dr Mazari mirrored the concerns of Prof. Martinez: ”We can’t just think about SRM and look at temperature. What about ecosystems, what about chemical processes, what about social welfare, what about economic aspects?” She concluded “I don’t think it’s the solution, or one of the solutions realistically.”
Giving an alternative perspective, Dr Raga pointed out that just because SRM is researched doesn’t mean it will necessarily be implemented: “We study what happens to the climate of Mars, and it’s not like we’re going to Mars.”
The final word went to Dr Gay, who concluded that he was in favour of research but he stressed the need for caution. He argued that evidence needed to be assessed evenly and accurately to check human arrogance in the face of the complexity of global climatic and biological systems.
Dr Amparo Martinez (Senior Researcher, UNAM Institute of Atmospheric Sciences & Climate Change)
Dr José Manuel Saniger Blesa (Secretary of Scientific Research, Development and Coordination, UNAM)
Dr Francisco Estrada (Coordinator, UNAM Climate Change Research Program)
Prof. Inés Camilloni (University of Buenos Aires, Argentina)
Dr Carlos Gay (Researcher, UNAM Institute of Atmospheric Sciences & Climate Change)
Dr Marisa Mazari (Researcher, UNAM Department of Ecology)
Dr Graciela Raga (Researcher, UNAM Institute of Atmospheric Sciences & Climate Change)
Andy Parker (CEO, The Degrees Initiative)
Chris Guillot (Senior Adviser, American Geophysical Union)
Nick Zúñiga (Programmes and Communications Officer, The Degrees Initiative)