The idea of “geo-engineering” the planet as a solution to climate change is gaining increasing traction among Northern governments. Geo-engineering is based on the idea that instead of reducing carbon emissions, we can solve climate change by large-scale tinkering with the planet’s climate.
Most of the ideas proposed seem pretty insane, and are likely to have far-reaching and unpredictable socio-economic, environmental and climate impacts. Suggestions include firing millions of mirrors into space to reflect sunlight; firing sulphur particles into the stratosphere to imitate the impact of a volcano to cool the planet; seeding the oceans with chemicals that will supposedly increase algal blooms to absorb carbon dioxide; or burning billions of tonnes of biomass for charcoal (biochar) to bury and sequester carbon.
Africa may end up particularly vulnerable to some of these exploits. Adding sulphur particles to the stratosphere is likely to affect major planetary weather systems, including the monsoon and its rains, on which millions of people depend. Adding chemicals such as urea or iron to the oceans could affect marine life and the livelihoods of coastal communities. And some proponents of biochar envision between 0.5 and 1 billion hectares of land in Africa being put towards tree plantations to produce biomass to burn into biochar, further fuelling Africa’s aggressive land grab.
Furthermore, strategies that focus on “Solar Radiation Management” (SRM) will lead to increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, which can only exacerbate ocean acidification, one of the major significant threats to the Earth’s ecosystems and climate stability. Strategies that focus on removing CO2 from the atmosphere, however, seem to be largely associated with other socio-economic and environmental impacts such as land grabbing.
Monitoring and control over the impacts of these processes is likely to be difficult, if not impossible. And as they are likely to be carried out unilaterally by Northern governments, there is little that Southern governments can do to prevent, prove, or even know about their impacts.
A moratorium on geo-engineering was agreed at the UN CBD last year. However scientists are still pushing forward with their agenda in the claim that this is the best and cheapest way to address climate change, without resorting to inconvenient emissions cuts.
The voice of African, farming and indigenous communities is sorely lacking from this debate.