Geoengineering debate shifts to UN environment assembly

Geoengineering debate shifts to UN environment assemblyCountries will discuss whether to commission a study of technologies to blunt the effects of climate change.

One type of geoengineering seeks to cool Earth by injecting sulfur particles into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight into space.Credit: Reuters

Technologies that aim to cool the planet by reflecting sunlight away from Earth or sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere will be on the agenda of the United Nations Environment Assembly next week, when it meets in Nairobi. The body is poised to debate a resolution on geoengineering approaches that could be used to fight climate change, elevating a controversial issue to its highest political forum yet.

A proposal backed by Switzerland and ten other countries would require the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to prepare a comprehensive assessment of geoengineering, including methods to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere or inject aerosols into the stratosphere to block sunlight. Due by August 2020, the report would examine the underlying science and technology, and how to govern research and wide-scale use.

Preliminary discussions began this week and a final decision by government ministers could come at the end of the UN assembly’s meeting, which runs from 11–15 March.

“In principle, it’s a big deal,” says Ted Parson, who studies environmental law and policy at the University of California, Los Angeles. “This could be the start of the serious international deliberation on governance that has been needed for years.”

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