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National Academies Launching New Study on Sunlight-Reflection Research

WASHINGTON – 16/10/18 -The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is forming a new committee to develop a research agenda and research governance approaches for climate-intervention strategies that reflect sunlight to cool Earth. 

The idea of curbing climate change by altering the atmosphere or clouds to reflect sunlight back into space, before it reaches Earth and warms the planet further, has gained increased attention as the challenge of limiting rising global temperatures becomes more daunting.  However, the federal government has no detailed research agenda for this field of study -- sometimes referred to as solar geoengineering -- and, even though some teams from the U.S. and other countries are moving forward with their own experiments, there is no agreed-upon protocol to govern such research.

The new committee, which will build upon a 2015 National Academies report on the issue, will study research needs and research governance in tandem.  Its focus will primarily be on strategies that involve atmospheric interventions, including marine cloud brightening, stratospheric aerosol injection, and cirrus cloud modification.  The committee will examine potential impacts and risks of these interventions as well as their technological feasibility, and will explore research governance mechanisms at international, national, and subnational scales.

“The urgency of the climate change problem, as documented in the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggests that it is very timely to take a deeper look into the viability of these approaches,” said Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the committee that authored the 2015 report.  “We are running out of time to mitigate catastrophic climate change.  Although climate-intervention strategies are not a substitute for actions to limit emissions of greenhouse gases,  some of these interventions, such as sunlight reflection, may need to be considered in the future, but first we need to study them more carefully and determine how best to govern field experiments."

Nominations for the committee, which will be appointed later this year, are currently being accepted here. The committee will hold its first meeting early next year; two public workshops will inform the study as well.  The committee will issue its report in the first half of 2020.

The initial sponsors of the new study are the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation, the Christopher Reynolds Foundation, the BAND Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Academy of Sciences’ Arthur L. Day Fund.

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