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Interview with John Moore on Solar Radiation Management

Source:China Meteorological News Press16-06-2017

Professor John Moore

It is urgent for us to tackle the impact incurred by climate change. Measures to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have long dominated public discourse about responses to man-made climate change. Except mitigation and adaptation, there is another option for us to address climate change. That is geo-engineering. A controversial, but cheap solution of last resort has emerged known as “solar radiation management.” A geo-engineering technique, it would shoot particles into the sky to reflect sunlight back to space.

The IPCC reports say “Theory, model studies and observations suggest that some Solar Radiation Management (SRM) methods, if practicable, could substantially offset a global temperature rise and partially offset some other impacts of global warming, but the compensation for the climate change caused by greenhouse gases would be imprecise (high confidence).” Therefore, a more cautious and shrewd attitude should be maintained about SRM.

Besides, Polar governance has captured much attention from the international community. Countries have congregated on a regular basis to discuss about polar affairs. It is of vital significance to guarantee polar ecology and conduct sustainable exploration.

The reporter from China Meteorological News Press interviewed Professor John Moore from Beijing Normal University. He shared insightful views with reporter in SRM.

Reporter: Liu Shuqiao

Interviewee: John Moore, Chief Scientist of College of Global Change and Earth System Science, Beijing Normal University

Q: How do you think of SRM governance?

I think any research so far does not need a particular governance regime because it is mainly based on super computers or measuring the proportion of aerosols in labs, mainly indoors research without any bad effects. Some people are of the view that any money spent on geo-engineering may take attention away from greenhouse gases emissions or how climate reacts to the emissions. As a matter of fact, I think it is not that difficult to see this kind of SRM research goes out of the lab and scientists choose to test some technologies out in outdoors.

It is a reality that geo-engineering experiments are about purely understanding these processes themselves instead of designed to change the environment itself in any measurable way. It is just about researching some physical properties.

While if a large scale experiment is conducted like for the purpose of slowing the snowmelt or glacier melting, it should call for wider discussions. Local people or the community involved should be congregated to voice their opinions. Any experiment of this kind should be conducted in an open manner. If certain people just make the decision and go with it, the consequences may be very bad.

Q: How do you think of an international SRM governance regime and can you give any suggestions?

I am not an expert in this field. While I would like to say we can surely learn a lot from some processes launched by IPCC or United Nations bodies. In reality, it is very hard to achieve unanimous support among countries. US, for example tends to handle things through the court. From my perspective, we should not just prescribe one process for every country. This process needs to be broad. Each country or culture knows best how to push this process forward in their way. Like in China, incentives like five-years plans are conducted which values the environment and not just focuses on development and trashes the environment. In the USA, political changed incurred by Trump may exert some impacts. But this will be a slow process and not a radical change due to its litigation or court tradition.

Q: How is the SRM research progress in China?

We have the funded project from Ministry of Science and Technology. There are also some groups with longer interests in these projects. We want to bring in more people into the project. The important thing right now is the timescale and the speed of those changes. People seem a little ignorant of how quickly changes are being made by emissions and how fast they have been growing, and how little time we have left in order to reduce them. If we look at the models, we can see that it is virtually impossible to achieve the 1.5°C or 2°C objective. To achieve this, we may need such a radical change to the economic system, which is more comparable or extreme than the changes made by the Second World War. And I don’t think politicians would like to do that because that means they have to sacrifice many other things people want.

Q: How do you think of the 1.5°C impact?

1.5°C would be great. The sea level would be manageable. But from my perspective, achieving this goal would be virtually impossible concerning our current economic understanding. Achieving 2°C objective may need some nice surprises in the climate system as well.

Q: How do you think of the integration of social science and natural science?

Scientists need to understand the impact on society. Right now, scientists from both sides are trying to understand what questions they are researching or interested in. It is a slow job but we are getting it. The job of the scientist is to provide the objective results that you can choose to do it and what would happen if you choose to do it. The job is to provide facts instead of arguing for a certain political party or politician.

Q: Sea level rise is reported to accelerate at an intensified rate. What do you think of that and how does it affect the earth and human beings?

Ocean currents are changing. People are more concerned about sea level rise on the coast instead of global mean sea level. Developing countries may have a higher rate of sea level rise compared with the average. Actually we do not have a very clear picture of how Antarctica will react to the warming change. We do not have a very good model at hand of Antarctic, especially in terms of the ocean. We can try to work out better models. (June. 16)

Editor: Zhang Yong