JOEL ROSENTHAL: Tonight we have Janos Pasztor, who is the head of our Carnegie Climate Governance (C2G) project, a special opportunity, and we also have our chairman of the board Steve Hibbard with us this evening. Steve is going to introduce Janos.
STEVE HIBBARD: Thank you. It's nice to welcome you all.
This is, if you will, sort of our couch-less salon. We have you down on the floor in seats because we want to be able to record this, but we want this evening to be as informal, as open a discussion as if we were just sitting around a number of couches and having a conversation over a glass of wine. Although Janos has some remarks and will share them, he invites interruption of them—they're not formal prepared remarks as such—even before he reaches the point where we might otherwise just have engaged questions and answers. So please think of this as an extended conversation. We are just very delighted to have you all here, friends and guests as well.
Just to give you a little context, here at the Carnegie Council we are in the fourth year of this fantastic project, which is led by Janos Pasztor. He is a Carnegie Council senior fellow, and he is the executive director of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative, which we call C2G.
Over his career he has had 35 years of work experience in the areas of energy, environment, climate change, and sustainable development. Before taking up this current assignment at Carnegie Council he was the UN assistant secretary-general for climate change in New York under Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. At the United Nations he directed the secretary-general's Climate Change Support Team, and later he was executive secretary of the secretary-general's High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability.
Earlier, Janos was acting executive director for conservation and policy and science director at the World Wildlife Fund International. Throughout his career he has also held many high-level duties inside and adjacent to the UN system, including the United Nations Environmental Programme and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as the UNFCCC.
He holds Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he is here to talk about something which every day now as we hear the news, as we pick up a newspaper, as we get a snippet on our iPhone of one thing or another, there is another manifestation of the climate change which is a dominant aspect of our lives. It is, as President Obama said, our "existential challenge."
With that, Janos, welcome to Carnegie Council. Thank you for being with us tonight.
JANOS PASZTOR: Thank you very much. Good evening. Thank you for coming, and thank you for spending the evening.
It's hot out there, isn't it? I brought my thick jacket to New York, and I'm just carrying it in my hands. That's part of the problem that we're trying to address.
It's hot here, Australia is burning, Indonesia is flooding, Norway is so warm that people are going to swim in the ocean when it should be frozen. Somebody called it "global weirding." This is the climate crisis, and we are really in a very serious crisis situation. Our little team is trying to make a small contribution to that. I will say a few words about that.
Before I do that, let me say first of all thank you to Joel for hosting us, and thank you to the board for hosting us. We have a virtual team. We are all over the world. We are in three continents and six time zones, and we occasionally are together, but the title of Carnegie Council certainly is something that brings us all together, and that is ethical issues in international affairs. There are lots of ethical issues that we are trying to address, and it's an international affair, so that connection is there. So thank you. It has been quite a journey the last few years, and we still have a few more things to do.
I also want to thank two of my colleagues who are here, Cynthia and Kai. They are two senior directors. We actually have quite a few colleagues in town—that's why I'm not sure how many are here—because we had an advisory group meeting this weekend, and there are lots of things happening in New York, so we have more than usual.
I thought that, even before getting into the issues, I'd like to start by just telling you what we did today, our day today very briefly because it might give you a sense of the way we operate and what we're doing. The alarm went off at 5:20. Kai and I always look for what is the nearest café that opens first. There's a Gregory's that opens at 6:00, so we get our espressos and everything and get going for the day. The first event of the day was a team meeting at 9:00 on GoToMeeting, again connecting people from Ecuador, from London, from Germany, and those of us who are here to discuss what happened this weekend. That's the way we operate, virtual team.
Then we had one, two, three, four, five, six meetings with ambassadors during the day. It included the ambassadors of Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, France, and the senior person in the UN Coordination Office. These are the kind of people with whom we had meetings today, all about our work and trying to engage and trying to explain what we're trying to do and trying to see how they react to the ideas that we have and then trying to see how we can follow up. And now we are here at CCEIA, and we end the day by talking about what we have done and hopefully get a sense of what we're all about.
So, climate crisis. We are not going to solve the climate crisis ourselves. That's very clear. But we can make a small contribution, and that is what we're trying to do.
I don't think I want to go too much into the details of how bad a situation we're in with climate change, but I think it's good to start with that because it's in that context that we're working. Very briefly, we have reached 1.1 °C above the historical average already, and if everything continues the way these things are, we will reach 3–4 °C by the end of the century. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it hasn't been like this for millions of years.
Already at 1.1 °C we see changes that are quite catastrophic, and many believe that if we go beyond 2 °C, a little bit more than that, or even 1.5 °C that will be catastrophic, 3–4 °C will be the end of the world as we know it. It won't be the end of the world, but it will be the end of the world as we know it.
That's the context that we're working on, and governments have agreed to do things to reduce their emissions in the context of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and if they do everything that they have promised to do, we will reach 3.5 °C. So clearly we need to up the ante. They need to do much more than that. Then, some countries have decided to not even remain in that agreement but go somewhere else and not even do what they promised to do.
So the challenge is huge. Scientists who come together in something called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produce regular reports bringing together the totality of science, and what they are saying is that it doesn't matter what we do in this world. If we want to stay below 1.5–2 °C—which is the range that has been agreed by governments as the maximum that we want to not go beyond because that will be catastrophic—then in addition to the massive emission reductions that we have to do we also have to start removing carbon from the atmosphere, but at massive levels. Even under the most optimistic scenarios we have to do 100–1,000 gigatons this century. Just to give you a sense, if we start in a few years that works out to let's say about 20 gigatons a year, and we are currently producing 40 gigatons annually. So we would need to remove as much as half of what we are producing.
This is such a big amount. Nothing like that has ever been done, and the technologies are not available. We know how to do them. We know how the chemistry works. We know how the machines would work. We also know how to plant trees, some nature-based approaches can help. But basically to get to this gigaton level will take decades of development to get the costs down and to get everybody engaged.
And yet, not only are those technologies not in place, but we need lots of things to agree upon: How to measure these things, how to monitor what people do. How do you agree that I take out so much carbon, you take out something else? Do you mean the same thing? Is this the same amount of carbon? So there are what we call "governance gaps," gaps that need to be filled.
In this area it's mostly about how to measure and how to account for carbon. What happens if you exchange credits between countries? You have to be really sure. And what if you put that carbon somewhere and then you don't look carefully and in a few years it comes out again? Then you haven't solved anything. What if you plant a forest and it burns down? Then you haven't saved any carbon. All of this has to come through improved systems of accounting and monitoring, and that's governance. That's the kind of issue that we're working on with governments and with international organizations.
There are places where these things can be governed. There are existing institutions. So we don't need to create something new. But we need to strengthen those existing institutions and raise awareness about these issues because people forget. Their attention is somewhere else. In this particular instance we have the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, we have the Convention on Biological Diversity. We have many different international institutions where these issues can be governed.
And more interesting, there is the private sector, and the private sector is interested because this is potentially also a big market. So there are all kinds of things happening, but it needs a push, it needs a pull, and that's the area of governance that we have been working on. But that's the easy part.
In fact, it's so easy—it's not, by any means it's not easy—that we think that over time we can put more of our energy into this other part that I will talk about now, which is much more difficult and much more challenging, and that's the area of the set of technologies and approaches that are officially called solar radiation modification (SRM); methods where you change something in the atmosphere to reflect more sunlight back into space and thereby cool the planet. You can put materials in the stratosphere from airplanes or balloons, you can plant different trees on the ground that reflect more sunlight, you can paint your roof white. You can do all kinds of things, but ultimately what they all do is change the albedo or the reflectivity of the Earth to get sunlight.
Scientists think that this will work because they have observed volcanic eruptions, and that's what happens: Volcanoes emit sulfur aerosols. There was a big one, Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, in 1991, and the global temperature went down 0.5 °C for almost two years. Scientists say: "Well, we can do this better. We can do it clean, without the big bang and without the rocks. We just get a few airplanes"—actually quite a few, it's many hundreds—"and spray aerosol into the stratosphere, and then it will work." They do computer models and things on this, and they are fairly confident that they can reduce the global temperature by 1–3 °C. In other words, they could reduce the amount that is going up. Sounds good, no? "That's great, we've solved the problem." Well, we haven't solved anything because this does not address the problem. The problem is carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, and even if you can put a shield to cool the planet, the carbon is still there.
However—and this is what some of the scientists are saying—the challenge we are facing is that it's taking long to de-carbonize the world. It's very difficult. It's happening, it's moving in that direction, but it's slow, and there are all kinds of challenges.
So while the world is de-carbonizing, to make sure that we don't overshoot this 1.5–2 °C, maybe we could apply this technology, and that gives a little more time to the world to finish the de-carbonization. That's the easy part, and it sounds good, right?
The problem is, it comes with governance and the ethical issues. Who should decide? Because it's very global. You can't do it locally, you can't do it above the United States or above an island or something. There are some which you can, but the one that is mostly talked about, the injection of aerosols into the stratosphere, has to be global, and it will affect everybody. Not only will it affect everybody, it will affect generations to come. That's where some of the ethical issues arise, but not only there.
Who should decide whether or not we should do this? Should it be the UN General Assembly? Should it be a single country? Or should it be a rich individual who has enough money to do this? Because unfortunately, one challenge with this technology is that it is cheap. The direct costs are likely to be as little as a few billion dollars annually. That's nothing in a global sense because that will be a global program to reduce global temperatures—$3–5 billion. That's peanuts. The carbon dioxide removal we are talking about, those are trillion-dollar figures. This is a few billion. Of course, you can't do it in isolation. You still have to reduce the emissions, so you can't look at it as a single thing, but still, the direct cost is low, and therefore politically it might be attractive for some.
But still, who should make these decisions and when? Should we wait until the temperature rises to 2–3 °C, or should we start talking about it now? In what forum should we discuss this? There is no obvious forum. For carbon dioxide removal there are existing fora, international and so on, but for this, where? There is no place.
And when should we do it? And what information do we need in order to even start a discussion? And I haven't even talked about the governance challenges of an eventual deployment if it were to come to that.
The title of this, "Who Controls the Global Thermostat?" is a very important question because if you do let's say 1 °C, just a little bit of a reduction, it seems that the impacts will be equal everywhere, but some model results show that if you increase the temperature reduction 2–3 °C, then you begin to get different impacts in different parts of the world. There is another set of ethical questions. How do you deal with that? Even if the majority of humanity then has a global good because the temperature comes down, what do you do with those who are worse off? What voice do they have in deciding this temperature?
These are the kinds of questions that we're posing to governments. We're not telling them what to do. We're not an advocacy organization. What we're saying is: "Governments, you need to deal with this, and don't wait until 35 years from now, when it's too late. You have to start thinking about this now because, if anything, these things will take years to sort out."
If you ask any serious scientist who is involved in this—and there are some unserious scientists as well—they will tell you that it will take 10–15 years at a minimum of focused research to get to a point where we know enough about this that we could say, "Yes, we can deploy or not deploy because it's not possible." Ten to 15 years of research.
The science is easy. The technology is pretty easy. The hard part is this decision-making of where, how, and who. This will take much longer, and that's one of the reasons why we're saying to the governments that we need to discuss these things now.
So what do we do? We engage. We talk. We produce information materials. We are very careful to remain impartial. We are not against, we are not for. Our purpose is not to promote the use of these technologies. Neither are we out there with a banner saying, "No, no, no, no, no." What we're saying is we need to converse, we need to talk about it. So we produce information, we convene meetings, we co-convene meetings with others, or we encourage others, and that's actually a very important part of our work. We actually want to work ourselves out of the job. Our plan is that by the end of 2023 we can get our mission done, and our mission is very simple: Get these issues on the agendas of the key international processes one way or another. Once that's done, we're done with our business.
That doesn't mean the climate crisis will have been resolved. It doesn't even mean that all the issues related to carbon dioxide removal or solar radiation modification will have been resolved, but our job is very simple. This mission is to get it on the agenda, and we don't want mission creep, we don't want to move into other things. That's what we want to achieve.
What is remarkable—I'm so excited to be part of this process, and I think I can speak for my colleagues who are here—is that over the last few years as we got going and as we started discussing, there has been a tremendous change. I think we are meeting our objectives. In fact, if I look strictly speaking—and Joel, you know this because you were part of that—the first proposal that we prepared for the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation, we met that a long time ago. That's the reality, and that's encouraging.
It's also very discouraging because one of the reasons, not just because—I think we did work hard—the world is in trouble, and the more the climate change situation gets worse the more people start realizing: Hey, maybe these guys are right. We do need to talk about this. Again, we're not here to promote that you must use this technology or that technology. What we're saying is: "Talk about it. Understand the issues, and then make a conscious decision which way to go." And if the decision is to go and use, let's say, something like stratospheric aerosol injection, then think about it hard, make sure you know the information, and then implement it accordingly.
But if the decision is that country says no, that's fine too, but then you have to live with the consequences also, and there may be some consequences. In fact, this is such a politically charged and difficult topic that many people even have difficulty talking about it, let alone thinking about it as something in the option space one day in the future.
But still the concept is that there has to be some place where you can bring people together who have these different views, have a discussion, and then hopefully come up with some reasonable moves forward. I think we are onto something, and these meetings that we participated in today and yesterday, we had similar meetings two years ago, and the difference is enormous. The difference is enormous. Now the ambassadors we meet come with people who are briefed, sometimes with our material, but that's okay. But they come with briefings from capitals. They have questions. They have been thinking about it. They were never really dismissing, but they were polite: "Yes, that's important." Now they are doing something else.
One of the other reasons why we are here this week is because the Belgian government decided that they think this is important. The issue is important. Solar radiation modification has potential impacts on geopolitical and security implications, something that is of interest to them. They are currently members of the Security Council, and in fact they are the president since Saturday, and so they decided to organize a few events starting in Brussels and now in New York, and they have asked us to contribute. Yesterday there was a meeting here. In March there will be another meeting, and who knows what comes after that?
I could go on for a very long time, but I think it's better if I stop. I hope you have some interesting questions, either about the technical or the political details. I have two colleagues here who are definitely able to support any questions that you may have, so I think collectively we will be able to address them. So, please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Kwame Marfo. I'm part of the New Leaders program. I'm also an impact investor.
You did mention that if things don't change, the impact can be quite catastrophic. Can you unpack that a little more? What kind of catastrophes are we likely to see?
JANOS PASZTOR: There are a couple of things. First of all, if you look at the history of the last few years, every year the new science and the new observations seem to show that we were too conservative the year before. In other words, it's getting worse. Scientifically, the point is that the sensitivity of the climate is greater than we thought. In other words, it is more and more challenging as we go forward.
Second, what will happen? As the global temperature rises, the ocean temperature rises. It expands. The sea level rises. That's in a sense the most obvious and immediate impact. It's measurable. It's there.
It's not like a certain number of centimeters of sea level. The average is important, but what happens is that there are surges. So you get surges on top of the average change, and that is what is really problematic. If you are from a country like—I visited Tuvalu last year, it's an atoll country. It's barely above sea level, and to have a surge like that there is catastrophic. And that is already happening with increasing frequency now when the global average temperature is 1.1 °C. Imagine what is might look like when it is 3–4 °C above the historical average.
The other important thing about climate impacts I mentioned, but let me just say a few more words about it, is the average. The average is one thing. Currently the global average is 1.1 °C, but at high latitudes like in the Arctic it's almost three times the global average. So in the Arctic it's 2.8 °C. There is a website somewhere, you can put it on any city in the world, and it shows you how much more the temperature has increased than the global average. It's very interesting to see that.
In addition to the difference in averages, you have extreme events that happen. It's normal. If you study physics, if you have equilibrium, it's one thing. When you disturb the equilibrium then you get all kinds of transients, and that's what we're seeing. We're seeing weird weather. We're seeing situations that we didn't see before, and we will see a lot more of this. It's hot out there—we'll see a lot more of this in the future—and the next day it will be very cold, but you're also going to see a lot more of that.
But ultimately impacts on the vulnerable people is where it gets worse because they don't have the capacity to react, so it's about food security, it's about their homes, it's about the survival economies of the poorest, the most vulnerable sections of society. That's where it's going to really, really hurt.
Just one more thing because this is really important. There are different schools of thought on this, but many scientists believe that we are very close to some of what they call "tipping points" and maybe we have even passed some tipping points.
Very respected scientists like Johan Rockström from Sweden, the co-director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and his colleagues have written a paper saying that we have now come to a point where the world can really only go into two directions: If we try to get our act together and do emission reductions and some carbon removal and other things, we manage to keep the global temperature rise within a reasonable limit. It will be warmer, and we will have to adapt to that warmer world, but it's sort of manageable. There will be problems, there will be challenges. But if we don't do that, then we go beyond those tipping points, and we will end up in a much hotter world. Uncharted territory. We have no idea what's going to happen, but it's going to be not the world that we know. Not the end of the world. Let's not talk about that. But it's the end of the world as we know it.
QUESTION: Thank you. Very interesting presentation.
My first question is on technology. What are the climate-altering technologies that you focus on, and why do you focus on those?
The second question is, why do you choose the approach of sharing information because there are interventions for climate change? You're picking the way of sharing information on certain technologies. Why do you pick that? Also, can you give examples on the impact on geopolitics because that's a very interesting area? Thank you.
JANOS PASZTOR: Okay. How many days are we going to be here? Very good questions.
First of all, we are not technology-focused. We're not looking at any particular technology. We're looking at families of—in fact, we even try to move away from the word "technology" and use the word "approach" because it's not a technique. It's a package of technology, an approach, the financing, and so on.
What we're saying is that we try to look at the totality without promoting or suggesting any particular one as the appropriate one because whatever is appropriate here may not be appropriate somewhere else. Instead, what we are saying is that there are some basic governance issues that are technology-independent within the family of carbon dioxide removal, and there are some other ones on solar radiation modification. They tend to be quite different, and we think of these very much separately.
In fact, we used to be called Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative, and we dropped the word "geoengineering," which is the collective word, but it creates confusion. We would rather be more specific and say we are dealing with solar radiation modification or carbon dioxide removal. So, not technology-specific.
If I understood the second part of the question, we provide information not about the technology but about generally how the technologies raise governance issues. If you have, for example, a certain ocean disposal of carbon dioxide, it has impacts on the ecosystem, the ocean, so that's an environmental issue that needs to be governed. If you use another kind of technology called—a nice acronym, acronyms are always used—bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), no need to get into details, but the point is that you would use large amounts of land to grow biomass to then burn for electricity, and then you capture the carbon. That sounds all very nice, but it uses a lot of land, which means it might displace food production, so it would raise food prices.
These are the kinds of questions we pose and say, "Okay, find ways to deal with them." Again, it does not need to be very technology-specific, but it's about the kinds of issues that governments need to deal with. We try to provide information about what those impacts are. We have the Sustainable Development Goals that every government has agreed to. We did a study, for example, of what are the impacts, positive or negative, of each of these technologies on the Sustainable Development Goals, and where maybe we need to do some more work.
QUESTION: My name is Stephen Terner.
You mentioned that you had met your initial goals. I was wondering if you could go over what some of those were. I was also curious as to what types of resistance you have come across, whether political, corporate, or otherwise.
JANOS PASZTOR: Our initial goal was that basically we wanted to have one international governmental forum where we could put this on the agenda, and that happened in the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) last March. Through our catalytic work, a number of governments went ahead and proposed a resolution. It didn't pass. The resolution didn't pass. It was very, very controversial, big debate and negotiation.
But the interesting thing was that it created the kind of discussion that we wanted to have. Not only did it create a discussion at that meeting, but it has continued. Today in many of the meetings we had with ambassadors here, they're still referring to what happened at UNEA and that it was important, and now they are following up, and they are trying to see what can happen next time. That's what I meant that we have already achieved a major objective that we had set for ourselves.
What we believe now—and this has moved forward—is that it's not enough to do this one-time thing in UNEA and that we need to address this in more than one such institution, especially when it comes to solar radiation modification. We need to discuss that issue in UNEA, in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and other places, and we're working on that. But at some point governments need to look at this collectively, especially after the next assessment report of the IPCC is out, and they might be able to do that in the General Assembly here. That's one of the options that is being discussed, and again there is positive feedback from governments. That's the kind of evolution that we have faced. So we have still a bit of work to do.
QUESTION: Hi, I'm Karenna Gore with the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary. Thank you so much for your presentation, and thanks to everybody at the Carnegie Council here for this important discussion.
I have a two-part question. First, I know that in the IPCC report they make clear that the primary cause of climate impacts and the climate crisis is the burning of fossil fuels. I wonder if there is some danger in a discussion around ethics of skipping over the part about how we could maybe do more to end this at the level of cause before we look at the effect.
I also know with ethics there are issues always with money and power, and we know that one of the reasons we don't look at that source and that cause is because there's a lot of money and power behind the status quo, and I wondered if there's some danger that there would be people interested in finding a way to fix things that wouldn't require ending the fossil fuel era and if you run up against that.
Finally, I'm wondering, because you mentioned that there are scientists who feel that solar radiation management—is that the term?
JANOS PASZTOR: There are different versions of that. It used to be called "management," but now the Intergovernmental Panel prefers to use "modification," but it's the same thing.
QUESTIONER [Ms. Gore]: Okay, solar radiation modification. Is there some kind of equivalent to an IPCC so that when we talk about scientists—how do we have a peer-reviewed, serious body of scientists because I have heard perhaps there are unintended consequences that could come from this sort of thing?
JANOS PASZTOR: You should have come to our advisory group meeting, because we were talking about that over the weekend, but very good question.
First of all, I totally agree that this is not to bypass the real issue, which is the reduction of emissions. That is the priority, that is what has to happen. I think I started this talk by saying that that is what has to happen. Emission reduction is what we need to do.
The only challenge that we're facing is that unfortunately the world did not do 20–30 years ago what we knew we should have done, which is to radically reduce our emissions then, and now it's too late to solve the problem by simply relying on emission reductions. We need to do more than emission reductions.
We're not here to solve the entirety of the climate crisis problem. We're trying to address a certain part, but we're doing it in the context of doing what we have to do, which is to reduce the emissions, and none of these additional technologies are solutions on their own, they can be supplements to reducing our emissions.
Imagine a situation that you continue to emit greenhouse gases, and then you spend trillions of dollars removing it while you continue to add to it. It doesn't make sense, financially or otherwise. Maybe it might make sense for a few economic interests, but that's what we need to talk about. So let's be very clear about that.
The second part of your question, the IPCC does address this issue, and it is looking at peer-reviewed literature about solar radiation modification. In particular, this time governments asked the IPCC to look specifically at some new issues in relation to solar radiation modification. We will see what will come out of that.
But—and this is where the big "but" is—many people believe that the IPCC—however important it is, and it is a very important process in terms of the international scene—is not sufficient and is not the only place where one should look for, let's call it, reviewed scientific information and assessment. There are other places that may be able to also produce different kinds of information and different kinds of assessment.
One of the things we were looking at with the advisory group this weekend is, what are these other places where maybe we can look either proactively and ask others to look at and do assessments, or see what they are doing? Just to go back a step, I mentioned what happened in the UN Environment Assembly last March. There was this resolution, and the resolution asked the UN Environment Programme to look at each of these technologies and do an assessment of what we know about the science, the risks, the benefits, and the governance challenges. It was going to do that, but it didn't get to resolution.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is Jason Wright. I'm a consultant in private industry from Hong Kong.
Earlier you mentioned Tuvalu. Can you speak to your organization's role or maybe the government's awareness of displacement or forced migration from rising sea levels and changes to coastlines?
JANOS PASZTOR: We don't deal with that. As I said earlier, we are not here to address the totality. But again, we are trying to do our work in a context. The reason I went all the way to Tuvalu—it's a long way, a lot of flying, a lot of greenhouse gases burnt in the process, I'm afraid—was to understand from the leaders who were there about the situation that they are in, the migration that they are preparing, forced in the sense that the crisis is going to force them to move. It's in that context that some of them have said, "Well, maybe we need to look at all these options to see what we have," because these are people who have cultures, they have traditions, they have lived for many, many thousands of years in those places, and suddenly it's all over.
So we're not directly looking at that, but we are trying to understand the context and then try to come and see how our ideas for discussing these issues can fit into those agendas. It's not easy.
QUESTION: Anthony Faillace.
I strain to imagine how solar radiation modification would be put in place, so what I would ask you to do is outline how it might work. Does this get done at the Security Council level? Do national governments approve it? Who actually does it? Is it 15 years in the future? What's the most probable path to taking planes and altering the temperature of the Earth and getting all the buy-in that that would require? What does that world look like in the most probable case? Obviously, there are a lot of unknowns, but if you're just envisioning how it might work, what's the most likely case?
JANOS PASZTOR: Let me start with the first part of what you said. I agree with you. I think my colleagues and I have difficulty seeing how it would work because it is a very challenging thing to do.
Having said that, we are in a crisis, and we are at the beginning of the crisis because what we are seeing is just the beginning. It's going to get a lot worse. When you are facing a crisis, then you have to find crisis solutions. I would have hated to think some time ago that one day we might need something as crazy-sounding as solar radiation modification to control our environment.
But the problem is that we're not listening. We're not doing what we should have been doing. The time comes where you at least have to think about even crazy-sounding, perhaps frightening-sounding solutions because it's a frightening future that we're facing.
What might it look like? The scientists are telling us that for stratospheric aerosol injection you need to get materials up into the stratosphere and spread them out evenly. The way to do it is you have hundreds of airplanes flying around regularly releasing basically sulfuric acid or carbonates or diamond dust—there are different materials that you can do this with—get it into the stratosphere at the right position, and the atmospheric scientists have figured out what is the best place to do it, and then it will stay there for a year or something, so there is a continuous cycle. Once you get it up there, then the planet is cooling because the sun's rays are reflected.
It will be quite a challenge to even organize the logistics of hundreds of planes. They have to be in different locations around the equator, so you have some kind of international cooperation with airfields, but it's not a big deal. It's done all the time. Look at the way the U.S. Army can intervene tomorrow somewhere, a ship with aircraft and everything. So it is doable. In dollar terms scientists who have looked at this think it could be done for a few billion dollars a year, the direct cost.
The challenge becomes the organization of this process because you have to have some kind of institution that is designated to deliver the approach. Somebody has to organize the airplanes, and somebody has to be sitting there and holding the thermostat and putting it to 1 °C or 2 °C or 3 °C and live with the consequences, and we have no idea how to do that. It needs a kind of discussion that has not been had.
Then, even if you could come to some agreement of how to do that, the trick is that once you start solar radiation modification you have to keep doing it until you have reduced the emissions and concentrations of greenhouse gases enough that you can stop, because if you stop quickly, then the temperature suddenly goes up again and then you're in an even worse situation than you were before.
So you have to find an institutional framework that can start and then keep going, a mechanism to do all this work without interruption. If there is a crisis in Wall Street and there is a crash, it still has to continue, if there is a war between China and India in the meantime, it still has to continue. All of those issues have to be addressed through some governance mechanism.
Then, what if something goes wrong? What if just little things go wrong, like a couple of small islands, a few hundred, a few thousand people? Still you need to find some way to compensate, to deal with that. But what if something big goes wrong? How do you deal with that, the liability and compensation issues? Not easy. If you were to want to set up something like that, that's the set of issues.
There is one more thing—I'm looking at my colleague here who is looking at some of those issues in more detail. What if you start a process of solar radiation modification, and then some country or countries decide, "We don't like this, and we will do counter-solar radiation modification," literally like a war? It's not inconceivable, and then you have to find a way to deal with that as well. It's not easy.
QUESTIONER [Mr. Faillace]: But what's the likely mechanism? Is it done through the Security Council? Is there some kind of supranational organization that is put in place to deal strictly with this? Obviously, it would need Europe, the United States, China. You need the major countries, but you might need more than that. What does the architecture look like?
JANOS PASZTOR: People have played around with different ideas, but in an ideal world that is based on science, international cooperation, all that stuff that is not quite happening these days very much, in that kind of a world, yes, you would have a discussion at the global level, in the General Assembly, Security Council. Maybe you would designate one or two countries who have the technology to do it on behalf of the world, and there would be a mechanism of accountability. You could envisage that.
That's not the world where we are, unfortunately. Then the question is, I don't know what will happen, but that's what we need to discuss because you could have a situation where one country decides unilaterally: "We're going to do it. Forget all these long negotiations that go nowhere. We'll just do it." And then what? They decide to do it. They have the technology to do it. That would be typically a large country, not a small country. But still, if they do it, and let's say something goes wrong, then you could have some very serious conflicts, political and geopolitical.
Otherwise, you could have small island countries—Tuvalu and others—get together maybe with some money from a rich individual and they say, "We're going to do it." Their moral stance of doing that is very high because they are suffering. Their countries are literally sinking for something they haven't even caused. It's very difficult to tell them not to do it. Yet if they do it, there could be some challenges. One would need to set up some mechanisms to address these issues, and there hasn't even been discussion of this other than through academic papers.
Kai, maybe you have some additional—
KAI-UWE BARANI SCHMIDT: This is basically the thinking about the situation as to when we decide to implement. But it's also the counterpart: If we decide not to implement, and we are moving into a world of half-a-degree higher, which has altered its governance challenges, you will have tens and hundreds of millions of people moving out of drought, out of sea level rise, so there is also need for governance in how the international community responds to that. In a nice environment, there will be things put in place to welcome them, take care of them, share our food, or we will move into a nastier world. The point is, the thinking about governance, about that future, whether it is with or without, the earlier we do it the better we might be prepared for that.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Ayisha. I'm a climate activist. I led the strike in New York City on September 20, and I have had the privilege of attending many meetings including COP, the UN Climate Summit, and meeting with the UNFCCC.
My question has two parts. One, the United Nations currently reflects the powerhouse that already exists. The countries in power have the most power at the United Nations, so people from Samoa and the Maldives, their votes, even if they do contribute, do not have the same weight. Maybe this is not a question, maybe it's just adding to the conversation you were having earlier, but in order to get this to be an international effort, how do you make sure that the nations that are most affected have equal stance in this procedure?
My second question is, the IPCC put out a report in 2018, and the most comprehensive was put out in 2016. The IPCC left out a dozen feedback loops, including the albedo effect. Are you measuring the possible feedback loops SRM might contribute to, or in relationship to, in the coming years?
JANOS PASZTOR: The first part, we live in a very imperfect world, to say the least, and it's a very unequal and unjust world. That's the reality. There are mechanisms that have been put in place that try to improve that a little bit, sometimes with more success, sometimes a bit less success.
I worked 30 years in the United Nations, and I can say that the United Nations has contributed very substantially to trying to make the world a little bit better here and there, not enough by any means. But still, at least in theory, every country has a vote. And that's important. There is no other place. At least there is that. Let's not forget that. We know that it's not that simple, but that's part of the reality of the world.
Certainly our initiative cannot change that. That's the context in which we are working. But what we can do—and this is something we do—is focus on the Global South in terms of our work and trying to engage people from the Global South through outreach activities in Africa, in Latin America, and in Asia. We're doing a lot of that.
We were doing a lot of that last year, and we're going to do even more this year to try to bring these issues into their context and into their agendas and try to learn from them about their agendas so we can also adjust our own approaches, and with that, increase the number of people who have capacity to understand and eventually to make choices and take decisions about these issues, whether it's this way or that way. So that is something we are doing, and we're doing it very specifically with a view to have people from the Global South understand these issues and be able to participate and engage.
On the second part of your question, there are many things the IPCC has left out and will probably leave out again some other things. That's why in our advisory group, as well, we looked at where else we can get some of the information that is assessed and has some value, some authority behind it. We don't have that scientific capacity to ourselves to check the results and say, "Okay, you left out this, you left out that." But we are conscious of the fact that there are feedback loops and there are issues.
As Kai mentioned before, in terms of our work it's not just about looking at the implications and the governance challenges of making use of these technologies. It's also looking at the challenges and the governance issues about not doing them. Increasing massive forests will change the albedo of the Earth, and not necessarily in the direction that you want it to. These are things that one has to think about. Yes, of course, planting trees is a good thing, but you do have to look at these things in their totality. That is something we try to push for—for broader assessment and broader analysis, to make sure that we look at all aspects of the issue so that we don't end up solving one problem here and then creating five others somewhere else, as is very often the case. But the world is not what we would like it to be, but that's the world we are in.
QUESTION: Hi. Courtney St. John with Climate Nexus.
I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about the issue of public discourse relating to this set of issues. We know that it's really important. It frequently gets talked about in the context of both of these technologies or approaches and is needed from the perspective of both educating the public but also ensuring transparency. It could happen certainly through publicly funded research but also through venues like the media, etc.
I'm curious. I think there are a lot of questions of when is it appropriate to begin to engage the public in this conversation, given its complexity and the ripeness for misinformation. Have you seen good examples thus far of where that is beginning to happen, and could you talk a little bit about those?
JANOS PASZTOR: I'll say a few words, but Cynthia, maybe you could say a few words on this as well because you're looking at some of these issues.
For many people when you say "governance" they think of regulation. While that is included in governance, for us, governance is a much broader concept of starting out with the key stakeholders, having access to information for these stakeholders to be able to participate effectively, and the whole process that eventually might end up in regulation as needed. Our work tries to do that.
At the same time, we have taken a decision—and we keep discussing it—that in our work our target audience is decision-makers and their advisors. That's what we're aiming for, not the general public. That doesn't mean that we have not done some work and that we are not working with some others, but our immediate focus is that. There are some exceptions, and Cynthia will talk a little bit about that. It's not like we ignore the rest, but at least in terms of our work.
One more thing before I ask Cynthia to say a few things is that of course ultimately in most countries—not just what you would call "democratic," whatever that means—public opinion matters one way or another. You can't expect governments to do certain things if their societies are not with it. That's true in China, it's true in the United States, it's true in Hungary. It may be manifested differently in those countries, but still it is true. Ultimately, whatever happens in terms of public opinion and public engagement is going to be really, really important.
The interesting thing is that in many countries there is basically very little public discourse about these issues. It will be very interesting to see how it emerges as governments begin to actually start seriously struggling with this. I don't how many of you are aware, but there are now over 70 countries that have committed themselves to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. That will require quite a bit of doing, both in the emission-reduction side and also on the carbon-removal side. Is there public debate about it? In most places, no. Let's see how that's going to happen.
I was in Berlin last week, and we were talking with some of the officials there, and there is basically no public discussion of this, and yet it will have to happen. This is an area that it remains to be seen how it's going to evolve, but in terms of our work what we try to do is work with others who are themselves engaged, with some exceptions.
Cynthia, maybe you can say a few words.
CYNTHIA SCHARF: Thanks for the good question. I know you work in the media, so the question is very relevant.
As Janos said, our target audience is policymakers and their advisors, but of course in a democratic system those policymakers are accountable to their publics. So we have actively reached out to non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations (CSOs) around the world, most particularly in developing countries, where the access to information is not as rich potentially as in a country like this. Those civil society organizations are in a way a proxy for a public discussion.
When we started this work I had been working in the field of climate change at the United Nations for some time—all of us had—and I had known these folks in these CSOs, and their receptivity to the message that we were bringing them was very cautious if not more negative. They simply did not want to have this discussion, for the reason that they call "moral hazard," meaning, "If we talk about it, it may become real, or it might divert money, or it might divert political attention from what we all know we need to do but we're not doing," which is reducing emissions as quickly as possible.
That attitude has definitely changed over the last three years. I would say most major international CSOs now are certainly aware of the IPCC's finding about carbon dioxide removal and have taken that message onboard.
Discussions of solar radiation modification are still very difficult for the same types of reasons that I mentioned; fear that if we talk about, it will take away the political pressure to do what we have to do or divert money that we should invest in clean energy or other programs like that. But we're seeing a change in that as well. As the climate crisis accelerates there is more attention paid to, "Wow, what do we do now?"
We have also done some outreach to faith groups, which are another avenue into society, and actually values and ethics are at the very heart of this discussion, perhaps even more so than the science and the actual mechanics of how you do this. We have made some inroads—we're a small team—but those discussions about values and do we have the right to do this, are we playing god, are very potent questions that go to the heart of any society's understanding of how the world works. So we have started with some outreach in those communities as well, and we will continue to do the best that we can.
I would say just one other note. I was very heartened, I'm sure all three of us are very heartened, to see so many of the younger generation—and I'm now at the age where everyone looks like the younger generation—and to have so many questions from the younger generation here because you will live with whatever decisions are made or not made on these technologies.
As Janos and Kai said, we live in a risk-risk world. There are no risk-free options left. What we're supposed to be doing, we're not doing it. We're not doing it at nearly the speed or scale that we need, so that's a huge risk, and every one of these other technologies that we have been talking about also pose risks, risks we know about and risks we don't know about yet.
So it's a very hard message to get across. No one wants to hear that there are risks everywhere. But that's the reality. And the more that people engage through their faith community, through a civil society organization, through their universities, through the media, the more discussion we have on this the better because if these technologies were used, every single country, every single person in the world would be affected.
JANOS PASZTOR: Thank you very much.