Africa’s Leadership Pokes Holes in Solar Geoengineering at UNEA-6

During the final days of the sixth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-6), convened to achieve consensus among member states on draft resolutions, a resolution concerning solar geoengineering was withdrawn. This decision stemmed from the reluctance of numerous African nations, alongside many others from the Global South, who advocated for the Assembly to reaffirm a precautionary approach to geoengineering, consistent with principles articulated by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and other pertinent United Nations bodies.

Solar geoengineering, also termed Solar Radiation Modification (SRM), encompasses a range of geoengineering techniques designed to mitigate the warming effects of greenhouse gases by partially obstructing sunlight from reaching the Earth’s surface.

Silvia Ribeiro, Latin America Director of the ETC Group, emphasized that solar geoengineering represents a perilous technological intervention championed by researchers and influential entities primarily situated in Northern countries, which have historically contributed to climate change. She characterized it as an exacerbation of pollution in an already environmentally burdened world. At UNEA-6, the principle of precaution prevailed over endeavors to legitimize this contentious and inequitable technology.

Among the proposed techniques, Stratospheric Aerosol Injection (SAI) is the most commonly discussed. This method involves dispersing sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, serving as a coolant but also posing risks such as ozone layer depletion, thus exacerbating the already compromised state of the Earth’s atmosphere.

The African Group at UNEA-6 underscored the call by the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) for an International Non-Use Agreement on Solar Geoengineering. However, opposition arose primarily from high-emission countries, particularly those actively engaged in geoengineering research, who opposed incorporating precautionary language in the resolution. Instead, they advocated for the examination of the “risks and benefits” of solar geoengineering technologies, favoring research endeavors already led or heavily influenced by proponents of geoengineering.

solar geoengineering

Mfoniso Antia, Program Manager at HOMEF and member of the Hands-Off Mother Earth Africa Working Group warned that deploying solar geoengineering exclusively over the Northern Hemisphere could disrupt local and regional weather patterns, exacerbating climate imbalances with potentially catastrophic consequences for Africa, including adverse impacts on water resources and food production.

Acknowledging Africa’s leadership on the issue, which builds upon AMCEN’s decision to oppose the deployment of solar geoengineering technologies, it is imperative to note the CBD’s imposition of a moratorium on SRM and other forms of geoengineering in 2010, recognizing the significant biodiversity and livelihood risks associated with such technologies.

Barbara Ntambirweki, representing the African Technology Assessment Platform (AfriTAP) of the ETC Group, highlighted the Africa Group’s formidable opposition to Switzerland’s solar geoengineering resolution at UNEA-6, signaling a foundation for future endeavors towards an international agreement on non-use of solar geoengineering.

Emphasizing the importance of unified negotiation positions, Hällström, Director of WhatNext?, stressed the necessity for any resolution on SRM to acknowledge the existing geoengineering moratorium and the call for a Solar Geoengineering Non-Use Agreement. He underscored the inherent risks posed by solar geoengineering and emphasized that it can never serve as a viable response to climate change.

In conclusion, the resolute stance taken by Africa and other developing countries during the UNEA-6 negotiations on the SRM resolution represents a significant triumph. The collapse of negotiations underscores the unacceptability of promoting such hazardous technologies. This sets the stage for a coalition of African and other like-minded nations to further demonstrate leadership by advancing a Non-Use Agreement on their terms

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