Flooding in Karachi, Pakistan, during a spate of heavy rainfalls that swept across South Asia last summer.
Photo: Shakil Adil (AP)

Geoengineering is a radical climate change response that could backfire catastrophically. If it did, developing countries would bear the brunt of the burden, both in terms of any negative consequences of planet-hacking, as well as if we suddenly stopped. So it stands to reason that just maybe, those countries should have a little bit of a say in the matter.

That’s the view of a dozen academics articulated in a letter published Tuesday in Nature. Led by Atiq Rahman of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, the group includes environmental scientists and policy experts from India, Kenya, Ethiopia, Brazil, and other nations mainly in the developing world. Their message? Scientists from these countries need to “play a central role” in the conversation around solar radiation management (SRM).

This oft-discussed geoengineering strategy would entail spraying tiny particles into Earth’s stratosphere to reflect incoming sunlight. Mimicking the effect of a large volcanic eruption, SRM could potentially bring global temperatures down in a matter of years. It’s also a wildly dangerous idea, with possible side-effects ranging from depletion of Earth’s ozone layer to utter devastation of the Amazon. Some folks also worry SRM could distract world leaders from the task of bringing down global carbon emissions (as if they needed more distractions).

Because developing nations with less resources to throw around would be especially vulnerable to any unintended environmental catastrophes resulting from SRM, it behooves them to study the matter more deeply. While calling the technology “outlandish and unsettling,” the authors of the letter say they are “neutral” as to whether SRM is a good idea or not.

The risks would have to be weighed against the benefit of offsetting rising temperatures. Climate change, remember, is also having a disproportionate impact on developing nations.

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“[M]ost solar geoengineering research is being done in the well-heeled universities of Europe and North America,” the letter states. “Unless that changes, northern voices alone will set the SRM policy agenda and decide which research projects should be accelerated or shut down.”

To facilitate that change, the letter announces a new $400,000 pot of money aimed at helping researchers in developing nations model the impacts of SRM within their countries and disseminate their findings. Organized by the SRM Governance Initiative, which runs geoengineering workshops in developing nations, the grant is being financed by the San Francisco-based Open Philanthropy Project.

Last month, a paper published in Earth’s Future noted that the best way to ensure an SRM scheme doesn’t backfire is for it to be deployed with strong global consensus. Andy Parker, lead author on that paper and Project Director of the SRM Governance Initiative, hopes the new letter serves as a reminder that “consensus” includes the world’s most vulnerable populations.

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“Developing countries have historically led on many important developments in international climate policy,” Parker, a co-signatory on the letter, told Earther via email. “It is right—morally and politically—for developing countries to be central to efforts to understand SRM.”