Regional Climate Variability and Climate Geo-engineering: African Perspectives

by Asfawossen A. Kassaye, Ethiopia, ELP 2014
Written on July 21, 2014.

The Earth has been cyclically cooling and warming due to natural forcing of the climate. However, there is now a general agreement on “global warming” caused by anthropogenic forcing. As per the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal…Total radiative forcing is positive…Human influence on the climate system is clear. Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.” Moreover, climate change and variability have never been uniform over the globe during the geological past. Temperature and rainfall variability show strong regional expression. Though the total global amount of rainfall will not change, the rainfall will be lower in the tropics but higher in the temperate regions.

Human induced climate change and its consequences are real. Moreover, climate change impacts vary regionally and locally. Tropical and sub-tropical zones (most of the developing world) will be more seriously affected. An increase of only 1°C will strongly affect water availability and the ecosystem, increase the frequency of extreme events, and cause food shortage in most of the developing world, which spends more than half of their income on food. Africa and Latin America will suffer from reduced rainfall and Asia from raising sea level.

Possible reversal of global warming and its impacts could only happen if the developed world meaningfully lowers CO2 emissions. Other proposed theoretical solutions include climate geo-engineering. Though climate geo-engineering could possibly lower global temperature, its real effect on the climate system at regional and local levels is unknown.

Climate geo-engineering, particularly Solar Radiation Management (SRM, or Solar geo-engineering) is a theoretical proposal for cooling the Earth by reflecting a small amount of inbound solar energy back into space. Proposed techniques include injecting sulfate particles into the upper atmosphere (mimicking the natural cooling effect of large volcanic eruptions) or brightening existing marine clouds by spraying seawater into them (Royal Society, 2009).

To lay the foundations for African engagement, the African Academy of Sciences (AAS), in partnership with the SRM Governance Initiative (SRMGI), held a series of three workshops in Senegal, South Africa and Ethiopia on SRM research and governance issues. The purpose of the workshops was to introduce African stakeholders to the concept of SRM, to seek opinions and ideas on how research of SRM might be governed, and to create the conditions for more sustained engagement on SRM research governance in Africa (Consolidated Report, 2013). In all these workshops and in a summer school held at Harvard University in August 2013, it has been clearly outlined that African engagement in determining governance on solar geo-engineering research is crucial and more awareness has to be created among African researchers and stakeholders. As a result, we will be soon establishing a Pan-African working group on SRM research and governance issues.

The developing world should actively engage in the ongoing discussion on climate geo-engineering research and its governance. The Earth belongs to all of us. Global scale processes such as climate change and climate geo-engineering will have global impact. Environmental leaders such as alumni of the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program should actively engage in leading the discussions on climate change and climate geo-engineering towards a more positive and equitable end.