The move, which has not been previously reported, marks the first federally coordinated U.S. effort of its kind. It could pave the way for increased funding and research into the feasibility, benefits and risks of such interventions. The effort may also contribute to the perception that geoengineering is an appropriate and important area of research as global temperatures rise.
Solar geoengineering involves a range of different approaches. The one that has received the most attention is the use of airplanes or balloons to disperse tiny particles into the stratosphere. These would then – in theory – reflect enough sunlight to facilitate warming, mimicking the effect of massive past volcanic eruptions. Some research groups have also examined whether releasing certain particles could break up cirrus clouds, which trap heat against the Earth, or low-lying sea clouds more reflective.
the 2022 federal credit lawsigned by President Biden in March, his Office of Science and Technology Policy directs to develop a multi-agency group to coordinate research on such climate interventions, in conjunction with NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the ministry of energy.
The measure calls on the group to create a research framework to “provide guidance on transparency, engagement and risk management for government-funded work in solar geoengineering research.” Specifically, it instructs NOAA to support the Office of Science and Technology Policy in developing a five-year plan that will, among other things, define research goals for the field, assess the potential hazards of such climate interventions, and determine the level of federal investment needed. to do that work.
Geoengineering has long been a taboo subject among scientists, and some argue it must remain one. There are questions about possible environmental side effects and concerns that the effects will be felt unevenly in different parts of the world. It’s not clear how the world will grapple with tough questions of global governance, including who should make decisions about whether or not to deploy such powerful tools and what global average temperatures we should aim for. Some argue that geoengineering is too dangerous to ever try or even investigate, arguing that just talking about the possibility might make the need to address the root causes of climate change feel less urgent.
But as the threat of climate change mounts and major countries fail to make rapid progress on emissions, more researchers, universities and countries are seriously exploring the potential effects of these approaches. A handful of leading scientific groups, in turn, have called for stricter standards to conduct that work, more money to do it, or both. That includes the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which last year recommended establishing a US solar geoengineering research program with an initial investment of $100 million to $200 million over five years.
Proponents of geoengineering research stress that reducing emissions should remain the top priority, but say we should explore these possibilities because they can meaningfully mitigate the dangers of climate change. They note that as heatwaves, droughts, famines, wildfires and other extreme events become more frequent or severe, these types of climate interventions may be one of the few resources available to rapidly alleviate widespread human suffering or ecological disasters.
In a statement, the Office of Science and Technology Policy confirmed it has established an interagency working group as requested by the federal funding law. It includes representatives from 10 research and mission agencies, including NOAA, NASA and the Department of Energy.