Solar geoengineering can curb climate change, reduce global inequality

Jan. 13 (UPI) — New research suggests solar geoengineering can do more than prevent temperatures from rising. Solar geoengineering, which involves reflecting sunlight to encourage cooling, can also reduce economic inequality between countries.

The new study, published Monday in the journal Nature Communications, relied on models that simulate the links between solar geoengineering, cooling and economic output.

Specifically, scientists looked at the expected of impacts solar geoengineering projects on temperature and precipitation, and then measured how changes in temperature and precipitation would likely influence country-level economic growth, measured as GDP per capita.

“While precipitation has little to no effect on GDP growth in our results, there is a relationship for temperatures,” lead study author Anthony Harding, a visiting graduate student with the University of California, San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy from the Georgia Institute of Technology, said in a news release.

Harding and his colleagues used what they learned about the relationships between solar geoengineering, cooling and economic output to simulate the effects of solar geoengineering projects under four different climate scenarios.

“Applying these historical relationships for different models, we find that if temperatures cooled there would be gains in GDP per capita,” Harding said. “For some models, these gains are up to 1,000 percent over the course of the century and are largest for countries in the tropics, which historically tend to be poorer.”

Researchers found that a decrease in the average global temperature of 3.5 degrees Celsius, compared to unabated global warming through the end of the century, was associated with significant gains in average incomes.

The economic benefits were more pronounced, with income increases exceeding 100 percent by 2100, in developing tropical countries like Niger, Chad and Mali. Income growth engendered by solar geoengineering-generated cooling was much more modest in developed countries like the United States.

“We find hotter, more populous countries are more sensitive to changes in temperature — whether it is an increase or a decrease,” said Harding. “Those hotter countries are typically also poorer countries. With solar geoengineering, we find that poorer countries benefit more than richer countries from reductions in temperature, reducing inequalities. Together, the overall global economy grows.”

Authors of the new study acknowledged that the impacts of solar geoengineering efforts on Earth’s atmosphere are still not well understood. Some scientists have proposed testing solar geoengineering solutions, like marine cloud brightening, on a small scale so they can better understand the impacts.

Many researchers are skeptical of solar engineering efforts. To convince doubters and prove that the experiments, even small scale ones, are worth it, supporters of solar geoengineering solutions know that it’s essential to communicate the potential benefits. Now, scientists can confirm that those potential benefits include reductions economic inequality between developed and developing countries.

“There is a problem with solar geoengineering science in that there has been a lot of work on the physical aspects of it, however there is a gap in research understanding policy-relevant impacts,” said study co-author Kate Ricke, an assistant professor at UCSD’s School of Global Policy and Strategy and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “Our finding of consistent reduction in inter-country inequality can inform discussions of the global distribution of impacts of solar geoengineering, a topic of concern in geoengineering ethics and governance debates.”