David Keith, United Nations, Geo Engineering discussed on BBC Newshour
The BBC NewsHour on WNYC in New York. Stay tuned later this morning at ten. It's the Brian Lehrer show today a look at the twenty twenty presidential race through the policy rich campaign of Senator Elizabeth Warren who has called for universal childcare and the end of the electoral college, plus New Jersey is approaching social Justice issues like record expunge moment as lawmakers get ready to vote on marijuana legislation. That's the Brian Lehrer show that. Begins at ten o'clock right here on WNYC. You're listening to the BBC World Service. This is news hour coming to you live from our studios in central London was James kumarisami time now for our regular look at climate change. And this week we're going to consider the risks and potential rewards of man-made responses to the problem from sending reflective mirrors into space to seeding, the oceans, for example, but at last week's UN environment assembly countries fail to reach a consensus on how to scrutinize these technological solutions to climate change, come under the umbrella term of solar geo engineering in some quarters have been promoted as an alternative to for example, cutting carbon emissions with critics warning that that could actually encourage the use of fossil fuels. Well, join me in the studio is David Keith. Professor of applied physics at Harvard a leading authority on geo engineering will also joined on the line by Jacqueline mcglade as professor of sustainable development at University College London, and a former executive director of the European Environment Agency, welcome both of you to the. The program. Let's let's start if we can with what the UN failed to agree on last week, this idea of scrutinizing geo engineering. Do we need more scrutiny and coordination? David, David, Keith. Absolutely humans. Don't make good decisions when they hide things. And I think whatever you think about this. We'll do a better job. If we talk about it openly, we studied openly, and if we debate openly how on earth we're going to govern government and just what we talking about. I gave a couple of examples, but I'm sure you have a long list of them. But what are the main examples that you would single out that would have the most impact on climate change? So I think we're talking about solar geo engineering, which is the idea that humanity might be able to alter the reflectively earth directly to reduce some of the impacts of accumulated carbon dioxide so that it's possible. But certainly not a known thing that a combination of emissions two zero and solar might have less climate risk than just emissions cuts might. Yeah. What what what's your perspective? Well, I think in a sense I want to combine the conversation around to these areas, which is the carbon aspect, which is I think come remove was still represents a very very good avenue to explore as well as the center radiation management, and I think at the union meeting the United Nations Environment assembly in Nairobi, the challenge was that the actual resolution, which was tabled by Switzerland. In a sense had very I won't say news language, but it was language that wasn't really based on a very hard technical definition. And in a sense that got in the way because many people know that within the UN system and amongst many conventions, in fact, geo engineering has already been discussed. So I think it was more the setting of where should we discussed you engineering rather than saying, oh, we're never going to discuss. This resolution will never come back is already on the table has been discussed. And in fact, there are definitive and de facto moratorium. In place that really say we need to tread, very carefully. Well, what are the what are the risks than? Well, for me, I think the risk area that really jumps up is when you talk about radiation management in a sense. Let me just pick out one of the stratospheric aerosol injection. There is definitely downside from the ecosystems which would be you may potentially create acidification of the sales. If you use sulfate aerosols, and so there are lots of consequential downstream effects, if you intervene in in the system such as such as the atmosphere on the other side, the common nouveau there. We're on in the sense much firmer ground because we do understand the planting of trees weathering of enhanced weathering, I think the challenge though is whether these things will ever work fast enough. David Keith those scientific risks. There's also the political dimension to this isn't there and the question of whether climate change skeptics us might use solar geo engineering as a way to say, well, we don't need to reduce carbon emissions or indeed summa suggesting it could actually lead to more use of fossil fuels because people will say, well, we have human ways of mitigating it talking about climate change skeptic is avoiding the central issue that the issue is that big fossil big oil who have immediate near term self interest in blocking emissions cuts to the disadvantage of humanity as a whole will exploit anything they can to argue for for for not having laws to prevent us. Using the atmosphere is a waste up for carbon, and they will certainly exploit research or development of solar technologies as a way to argue that they don't need emissions cuts. That's false. If you want a stable climate, you must cut emissions to zero in the law. Homerun? But it is an argument people will make in practice almost no one is making that now. And there's a lot of falsehoods going around about the idea that the solar research community, which I'm a part is somehow funded by fossil fuel interest, which is nonsense. So for you. It's a combination you need you'd like the geo engineering to work in tandem with cats to emissions. I wouldn't even say that. I don't think we know for sure that it would make sense to ever do Sergey measuring what I think we know is that from all major climate models that there is evidence that it could substantially reduce risks. And so we should study it a lot more and try and begin deliberations about how we will government is it possible to to explain in layman's terms, briefly, how solar geo engineering works as a concept. Sure. So one method is referred to is to put aerosols like south uric acid into the stratosphere and the evidence from from as I say it really all climate models is that could reduce changes to water availability for reduce extreme store. Terms like tropical cyclones, reduced extreme temperatures and extreme precipitation do that in a pretty uniform way around the world. The big question is are those models in some way, systematically wrong. They're a bunch of risks ozone depletion, the acid rain risk actually turns out to be pretty much a non issue. There's been a bunch of papers on that. But, but we have to ask all these questions and ask them in an open way internationally with a much broader group looking at them before we should believe any of this Jacqueline mcglade. What do you think? What what is? What is the correct forum than all the most effective forum for discussing all these issues? Well, I mean, I I totally agree. I think that the risks need to be tethered out really attached to all the different technologies, but there is genuine risk, which is when you think about sustainable development, and why aren't going to say the answer is within the UN setting within a macho multi-lateral setting, and that is that you inadvertently take a risk that you can disproportionate effect. People who are very poor have limited access to resources and land. And if something were to go wrong, then essentially they would be penalized much more heavily. So I think the governance issue really is the thing that we should keep firmly in our minds because the human race is population is inevitably very creative and can always come up with new technologies and new ideas. But it's how we govern it. So my fundamental belief is that within the UN setting it is absolutely essential. So essentially now, you an environment. Could potentially bring forward what I think would be a balanced assessment looking at both the engineering and looking at the risks. But ultimately, I think it needs to be looked at within the context of sustainable development, which means then goes back to the level of the secretary general and the whole of the United Nations and all of the nation states themselves, David Keith you'd like to come back. We need to look at risks on both sides. There's no question that the rest of solar Jewish, but there are also enormous risks of having CO two in the atmosphere and people often imagine cutting emissions solves the problem. Cutting mission stops us putting CO two in the atmosphere does not stop climate risk. And in fact, the evidence while we should absolutely worry about the disenfranchise the poor getting affected. The overwhelming evidence is that they are more affected by extreme climate risks and the evidence or data's they would benefit more from solar Jewish nearing, and it's really important to be clear eyed about the underlying evidence that these technologies could substantially risk to the most. Vulnerable people and ecosystems on the planet that which is the reason many of us are interesting, David Keith we have to leave it there. Professor of applied physics at Harvard and Jacqueline mcglade, professor of sustainable development at University College London. Thank you both. Joining us here on news hour do stay with us here on the program. Plenty.