Funding for Solar Geoengineering from 2008 to 2018

By Ella Necheles, Lizzie Burns, Amy Chang, and David Keith. 

Our Project

As the visibility of solar geoengineering research grows, we thought it would be useful to provide a publicly accessible record of the solar geoengineering projects that have been funded over the past ten years.

How one defines a solar geoengineering “project,” however, is not straightforward. With a diverse range of efforts having taken place, there are numerous approaches that one could take.

For our purposes, we used the following definition to focus our scope. We realize, however, that this does not encompass every solar geoengineering effort that has been undertaken to date. Furthermore, we recognize that many solar geoengineering efforts have not even been funded, but rather have been conducted voluntarily. As one researcher explained: “Nobody supports me for GeoMIP. I do all of that on nights and weekends.”

Therefore, while the criteria below provided a scope for our project, it did not capture every effort that has been dedicated to solar geoengineering to date. For our project:

  • Funding: The project received at least $100,000 USD in funding for efforts focused on solar geoengineering (or albedo modification, solar radiation management, and other terms)
  • Outputs: The project’s major outputs (papers, reports, conferences, workshops, etc.) included a significant solar geoengineering focus
  • Type: The project focused on research, advocacy, policy, governance, public engagement, or other related topics
  • Duration: The project took place between 2008 to 2018

Within this framework, we collected information about the projects’ missions, scope of work, locations, funders, and funding levels wherever possible. We then identified several key trends from this data set, including analysis of the geographic locations of projects, the focuses of projects, and the funding sources for projects.

We hope that this information establishes a deeper understanding of the current and past state of solar geoengineering, and improves communication across projects.

(N.B. For those new to the topic, no project has or is currently deploying solar geoengineering. Rather, projects have or are focusing on research, advocacy, governance, policy, public engagement, and other topics, as described above.)

Our Process

This project built upon earlier estimates of funding for solar geoengineering, such as the 2013 list cultivated by Andy Parker and David Keith and the 2013 list by Open Philanthropy. To update these lists, many researchers and advocates in the field provided firsthand information about their projects. We thank them for their engagement in this process.

Note: This list is very much a work in progress. We anticipate that omissions or errors remain. To fix these errors and ensure that the list can best serve its intended purpose as a resource, we encourage input from the community. Please email Amy Chang with any edits or additions (acchang [at] seas.harvard.edu).

Our Results

A list of projects, their locations, their funding levels, and start and end dates is shown below. For more detailed information on each project (including funders, project type and focus, funding type, and lead institute), please see this document.

Summary Results

*Some projects received funding from other projects on this list. We made sure to avoid double counting when estimating totals. For example:
  • IASS received and administered third party funding of $177,840 to EuTRACE. This amount has been excluded from the IASS funding total but added in the EuTRACE total.
  • FICER provided $100,000 to SRMGI and $150,000 to MCB. These amounts have been excluded from the FICER funding total but have been added to the SRMGI and MCB funding totals. Additionally, the FICER estimate assumes that approximately 70% of total FICER funding supported solar geoengineering research. This 70% estimate is listed in the table and was provided by David Keith.
  • SRMGI provided $450,000 to DECIMALS and received $100k from FICER. The total SRMGI amount listed excludes the DECIMALS funding but includes the FICER funding.

Highlights

Several interesting patterns emerged from this data set. However, given the data set’s small size and incomplete nature (including the missing volunteer work), we do not believe these patterns represent a thorough analysis of the trends in solar geoengineering research and advocacy. We merely highlight them below in case they prove useful.

Overall, the total amount of global funding supporting solar geoengineering research and advocacy has been rather minimal, particularly when compared to the total amount of funding that has supported other climate related research and advocacy efforts since 2008. That said, solar geoengineering funding has increased gradually over the last decade (except for 2015 and 2016, when there was a slight decline). For example, in 2008, there was a little more than $1 million in solar geoengineering funding, and in 2018 there was a little more than $8 million in funding.

Total Global Funding

Looking closer at the geographic distribution, the US, UK, and Germany have hosted the majority of solar geoengineering projects over the past decade. In Germany, funding has supported numerous projects since 2012 and 2013, and that funding has stayed rather constant over time; in the US, there has been a gradual increase in funding from 2008 to 2016, and then a spike in 2016 (largely due to Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program and the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative); and in the UK, we see an opposite trend, where there was some funding towards the beginning to middle of the period in question, but then a decline in recent years.

Country Level Funding

Various other countries, such as China and Japan, also host large geoengineering projects. Still, there are regions that have had little to no engagement in solar geoengineering research or advocacy. For example, South America and Africa both lack countries with significant solar geoengineering programs. Considering the large impacts that solar geoengineering could have on regions within these continents (both in terms of benefits and risks), it is essential that these regions are engaged moving forward. The DECIMALS Fund was launched in 2018 to serve this purpose, and aims to fund 7-8 projects in developing nations through 2020.

Regional Funding

In addition to geographic trends, we also analyzed the funding sources. Over the decade in question, government funding swelled (reaching its peak in 2014) before decreasing. Private funding remained constant before increasing in 2016 (again, largely due to Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program and the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative). And mixed sources funding (public and private) remained such a small percentage of overall funds that its pattern is difficult to trace.

Funding Sources

When we looked closer at funding sources by location, we noticed several differences. In Europe and Asia, the government provided the majority of funding, while in the US, the philanthropic sector provided a greater amount of funding. The following table shows the approximate funding amounts by location and funding type between 2008 and 2018:

Funding Sources by LocationLastly, over the last ten years, funding support for interdisciplinary projects (focusing on both natural and social sciences) has increased rather steadily over the decade. Likewise, funding support for purely social science work has increased over time, except for 2015 and 2016, when it experienced a decline. In comparison, funding support for purely natural science research has gradually increased and then decreased over time.

Funding by Research Type

Thank You

We would like to thank the many individuals who shared information about their projects. If you notice any errors or omissions, please email Amy Chang (acchang[at] seas.harvard.edu).

Ella Necheles is a sophomore at Harvard College. Lizzie Burns is the Program Director for Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program. Amy Chang is the Coordinator for Environmental Research at Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program. David Keith is the Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

This post was updated on August 11, 2019 to reflect new information learned.