The Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance initiative (C2G2) launched a new report on Tuesday in a briefing to the permanent representatives at the United Nations Environment Program in Nairobi. The report explores the potential implications of climate engineering for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world governments in 2015 as part of the Agenda 2030. ‘Climate engineering’ is an umbrella term for technological interventions in the climate system by either removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or reflecting sunlight away from Earth.
As independent academic partner for the study, the IASS provided guidance based on its long-standing expertise in sustainability research and the assessment of climate engineering, evidenced, for example, in the Climate Engineering Conference series as well as the EuTRACE report. The study’s authors, including IASS scientists Matthias Honegger (lead author) and Stefan Schäfer, who leads the institute’s work on climate engineering, offer an initial examination of the current academic understanding of potential interactions between climate engineering and the achievement of the SDGs.
Risks for clean water, good health, peace and justice
The report finds that at least 13 of the 17 SDGs could be affected in some way if solar geoengineering or large-scale carbon dioxide removal technologies were deployed. It indicates that some forms of climate engineering could pose risks to the implementation of at least 9 of the 17 SDGs, in particular regarding clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), good health and well-being (SDG 3), the reduction of poverty (SDG 1), and peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16). Further risks are identified for other SDGs, including zero hunger (SDG 2), life below water (SDG 14), affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), and life on land (SDG 15).
According to the report, extensive research gaps exist in relation to the potential implications of deploying solar geoengineering or large-scale carbon dioxide removal. Efforts to understand the broader implications of carbon dioxide removal technologies for sustainable development outcomes are found to be insufficient. Many of these technologies are untested at scale and substantially more expensive than ongoing efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. The uncertainties surrounding solar geoengineering are also large, and deployment without adequate global governance would be highly disruptive with significant implications for the implementation of the SDGs.
Matthias Honegger sees an urgent need to explore these implications: “Despite the Paris Agreement, the current pathway we’re on is leading us towards 3°C of warming and correspondingly grave threats to human development and natural environments. There is a hope that some of these technologies – applied in addition to deep and rapid CO2 cuts – might help reduce risks. As a society we need to investigate whether this might be true.”
More transdisciplinary research needed
The reports’ authors therefore recommend more transdisciplinary research on the interconnections between climate engineering and sustainable development. They would also like to see more diversity and collaboration among researchers and the inclusion of manifold societal perspectives. As Janos Pasztor, Executive Director of C2G2 and former UN Assistant Secretary-General for Climate Change under Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, writes in his foreword: “The potential deployment of large-scale carbon removal or solar geoengineering technologies is too big a question, too wide in scope, to keep to one expert community. We need to bring climate scientists together with development experts, government together with NGOs and private entrepreneurs, if we are to stand a chance of getting this right.”
Another key recommendation in the report stresses the need for integrated policy impact assessments to understand potential policy designs for climate engineering and their implications. The authors also call for a comprehensive quantitative analysis of potential risks and benefits of climate engineering and advocate social science and humanities research that critically examines the role of science and technology in the context of the SDGs.
The authors conclude with the key recommendation that governance of research and any potential future deployment of climate engineering will need to be carefully designed to ensure compatibility with sustainable development and to reduce the risk of negative impacts.
The report was funded by the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative (C2G2) and prepared jointly by C2G2, Climate Strategies (CS), and Perspectives Climate Research (PCR), with the IASS as independent academic partner.
The full text of the report can be found here,
An online version presenting the key findings can be found here.
Further information on the technologies discussed in the report can be found in the IASS Fact Sheets: