Publications

Publications

Harvard's Solar Geoengineering Research Program seeks to advance natural and social science research on solar geoengineering. The following academic and non-technical publications highlight some of the latest findings.

Academic Publications

Horton, Joshua B., and Barbara Koromenos. “Steering and Influence in Transnational Climate Governance: Nonstate Engagement in Solar Geoengineering Research.” Global Environmental Politics 20, no. 3 (2020): 93-111. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Theorists of transnational climate governance (TCG) seek to account for the increasing involvement of nonstate and substate actors in global climate policy. While transnational actors have been present in the emerging field of solar geoengineering—a novel technology intended to reflect a fraction of sunlight back to space to reduce climate impacts— many of their most significant activities, including knowledge dissemination, scientific capacity building, and conventional lobbying, are not captured by the TCG framework. Insofar as TCG is identified with transnational governance and transnational governance is important to reducing climate risks, an incomplete TCG framework is problematic for effective policy making. We attribute this shortcoming on the part of TCG to its exclusive focus on steering and corollary exclusion of influence as a critical component of governance. Exercising influence, for example, through inside and outside lobbying, is an important part of transnational governance—it complements direct governing with indirect efforts to inform, persuade, pressure, or otherwise influence both governor and governed. Based on an empirical analysis of solar geoengineering research governance and a theoretical consideration of alternative literatures, including research on interest groups and nonstate advocacy, we call for a broader theory of transnational governance that integrates steering and influence in a way that accounts for the full array of nonstate and substate engagements beyond the state.
Lutsko, Nicholas J., Jacob T. Seeley, and David W. Keith. “Estimating Impacts and Trade‐offs in Solar Geoengineering Scenarios With a Moist Energy Balance Model.” Geophysical Research Letters 47, no. 9 (2020). Publisher's VersionAbstract
There are large uncertainties in the potential impacts of solar radiation modification (SRM) and in how these impacts depend on the way SRM is deployed. One open question concerns trade‐offs between latitudinal profiles of insolation reduction and climate response. Here, a moist energy balance model is used to evaluate several SRM proposals, providing fundamental insight into how the insolation reduction profile affects the climate response. The optimal SRM profile is found to depend on the intensity of the intervention, as the most effective profile for moderate SRM focuses the reduction at high latitudes, whereas the most effective profile for strong SRM is tropically amplified. The effectiveness of SRM is also shown to depend on when it is applied, an important factor to consider when designing SRM proposals. Using an energy balance model allows us to provide physical explanations for these results while also suggesting future avenues of research with comprehensive climate models.
Horton, Joshua B., Penehuro Lefale, and David Keith. “Parametric Insurance for Solar Geoengineering: Insights from the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative.” Global Policy, no. Special Issue (2020). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Solar geoengineering (SG) entails using technology to modify the Earth's radiative balance to offset some of the climate changes caused by long‐lived greenhouse gases. Parametric insurance, which delivers payouts when specific physical indices (such as wind speed) cross predefined thresholds, was recently proposed by two of us as a compensation mechanism for SG with the potential to ease disagreements about the technology and to facilitate cooperative deployment; we refer to this proposal as reduced‐rate climate risk insurance for solar geoengineering, or ‘RCG’. Here we probe the plausibility of RCG by exploring the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative (PCRAFI), a sovereign risk pool providing parametric insurance coverage against tropical cyclones and earthquakes/tsunamis to Pacific island countries since 2013. Tracing the history of PCRAFI and considering regional views on insurance as compensation necessitates reconfiguring RCG in a way that shifts the focus away from bargaining between developed and developing countries toward bargaining among developed countries. This revised version of RCG is challenged by an assumption of broad developed country support for sovereign climate insurance in the developing world, but it also better reflects the underlying incentive structure and distribution of power.
Keith, David, and Peter Irvine. “Halving warming with stratospheric aerosol geoengineering moderates policy-relevant climate hazards.” Environmental Research Letters 15, no. 4 (2020). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Stratospheric aerosol geoengineering is a proposal to artificially thicken the layer of reflective aerosols in the stratosphere and it is hoped that this may offer a means of reducing average climate changes. However, previous work has shown that it could not perfectly offset the effects of climate change and there is a concern that it may worsen climate impacts in some regions. One approach to evaluating this concern is to test whether the absolute magnitude of climate change at each location is significantly increased (exacerbated) or decreased (moderated) relative to the period just preceding deployment. In prior work it was found that halving warming with an idealized solar constant reduction would substantially reduce climate change overall, exacerbating change in a small fraction of places. Here, we test if this result holds for a more realistic representation of stratospheric aerosol geoengineering using the data from the geoengineering large ensemble (GLENS). Using a linearized scaling of GLENS we find that halving warming with stratospheric aerosols moderates important climate hazards in almost all regions. Only 1.3% of land area sees exacerbation of change in water availability, and regions that are exacerbated see wetting not drying contradicting the common assumption that solar geoengineering leads to drying in general. These results suggest that halving warming with stratospheric aerosol geoengineering could potentially reduce key climate hazards substantially while avoiding some problems associated with fully offsetting warming.
More

Non-Technical Publications

Burns, Lizzie, David Keith, Peter Irvine, and Joshua Horton. “Belfer Technology Factsheet Series: Solar Geoengineering” (2019).Abstract
Solar geoengineering refers to a set of emerging technologies that could alter the Earth’s radiative balance— perhaps through injecting aerosols into the stratosphere, where they would reflect a small fraction of sunlight back into space—reducing the amount of climate change caused by greenhouse gases. It could not replace reducing emissions (mitigation), coping with a changing climate (adaptation), or carbon dioxide removal (CDR). Yet it does have the potential to supplement these efforts, and it might provide reductions in climate risk that are unachievable by other means.
More