NAIROBI: UN delegates on Thursday withdrew a motion calling for more research into technologies that aim to fight climate change by reflecting the sun’s rays back into space, amid concerns about health and environmental risks.

Some who opposed the draft resolution at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) were also worried that the use of solar radiation modification (SRM) might let big polluters off the hook, organisations watching the debate said.

Switzerland and Monaco first tabled the resolution on examining the geoengineering technology in December and it was discussed during this week’s assembly in Nairobi.

The original version called for the convening of an expert group that would produce a report examining SRM’s possible applications, risks and ethical considerations.

UN Environment Assembly says the use of solar radiation modification involved health risks

One of the best known proposals for using it involves blasting sulphur dioxide — a coolant — into the higher reaches of the atmosphere.

There are only a handful of small SRM projects in operation. Some scientists say SRM could be made available when necessary to avert climate tipping points.

Critics are worried about possible impacts on weather patterns and agriculture, especially in poorer countries. They also fear SRM could serve as an excuse to delay cutbacks on greenhouse gas emissions.

After going through six revisions over the past two weeks, the resolution was withdrawn on Thursday.

Robin Poll, a spokesperson for Switzerland’s Federal Office for the Environment, said countries disagreed on how to facilitate better access to information on SRM and “if the gathering of information should only focus on risk and uncertainties or could as well include potential benefits”.

“We regret that UNEA couldn’t come to a conclusion on this important matter. However, the discussions have been informative and useful and we managed to start a global conversation about this important topic,” he said.

Ali Mohamed, Kenya’s climate envoy, said African countries opposed the resolution.

“The science is very, very nascent, and the risks are unknown,” he said. “At this stage, there are many solutions to the regulation of greenhouse gases.” The Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) said the European Union, Pacific Island states, Colombia and Mexico also came out against the resolution.

“These technologies cannot tackle the root causes of the climate crisis and would instead enable major polluters to delay the urgent need to phase out fossil fuels,” Mary Church, Senior Geoengineering Campaigner at CIEL, said.—

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2024

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