The Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate; Division on Earth & Life Studies
The Committee on Science, Technology, and Law; Policy and Global Affairs Division
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicinestudy title

 

Statement of Task

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine proposes to undertake a study that would develop a research agenda and recommend research governance approaches for climate intervention strategies that reflect sunlight to cool Earth. The proposed study would aim to address research needs and relevant research governance in tandem, such that the understanding and thinking on each can inform the other.

The study will focus on sunlight reflection strategies that involve atmospheric interventions, including marine cloud brightening, stratospheric aerosol injection, and cirrus cloud modification. It will consider trans-disciplinary research related to understanding the baseline chemistry, radiative balance, and other characteristics of the atmosphere; estimating the potential impacts and risks, both positive and negative, of these interventions on the atmosphere, climate system, natural and managed ecosystems, and human systems; technological feasibility of these interventions; and approaches and metrics for detecting, monitoring and quantifying the multiple physical and societal impacts of solar climate interventions.

The study will explore and recommend appropriate research governance mechanisms at international, national, and sub-national scales. It will consider research governance that already exists, examples of research governance mechanisms currently being used or considered for other areas of scientific inquiry that could be adapted to the realm of climate intervention research, and any potentially new frameworks required.

The committee will include two subpanels (composed of members of the committee) that will organize two workshops to address the research agenda and research governance considerations listed below. Drawing upon these workshops, other information gathering activities, and deliberations among the full membership, the committee will author a single consensus report providing its findings and recommendations.  The committee will:

1. Develop a detailed trans-disciplinary research agenda for sunlight reflection strategies. The committee will assess questions such as:

  • What research is needed to assess the feasibility, efficacy, and risks of the proposed approaches?
  • What research is needed to assess likely impacts and risks of reduced solar radiation on key global systems (including the oceans, ice sheets, food and fiber production, human health, solar and wind energy, terrestrial ecosystem functioning and biodiversity, and global biogeochemical cycles) and on achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals? What are the risks (environmental, social, geopolitical) of conducting such research?
  • What research is needed to assess how reducing solar radiation could help avoid or trigger critical transitions in environmental systems?
  • What relevant research is happening currently in the United States and abroad?  What have we learned from this work?
  • What are the important knowledge gaps and key technical constraints (such as model resolution or cloud physics)?
  • What research is needed to address the knowledge gaps and key technical constraints?  What are reasonable research goals for the next decade?
  • What investments in observations, modeling capabilities, and other supporting research infrastructure will be necessary to advance the research agenda?
  • What are benefits of the proposed research in advancing other areas of science?

 

2. Explore and recommend appropriate research governance mechanisms.  The committee will assess questions such as:

  • How best to foster meaningful public participation and consultation in research planning and oversight, and to ensure transparency and accountability regarding a project’s goals and plans, potential risks, and eventual results?
  • How to ensure that research is designed to minimize the chances of unintended impacts and is aimed at promoting the collective benefit of humankind and the environment?
  • How to identify and apply professional standards of good scientific conduct?
  • How to balance adequate oversight, review, public consultation, and approval mechanisms with norms for freedom of scientific inquiry?
  • How to harness the benefits of potential private sector involvement (e.g., innovation, capital investment, cost minimization) without creating vested financial interests in operational deployment, inappropriate intellectual property claims, or threats to national and international public good?
  • What statutory limits might affect what work can be funded by federal agencies and what research may need to adhere to particular existing federal policies or international agreements or processes?
  • How to identify the governance mechanisms that should be in place in advance of field research at various scales?

 

The committee will be encouraged to look at examples of research governance mechanisms currently being used or considered for other areas of scientific inquiry that could be adapted to the realm of climate intervention research.

Project Staff

Katie Thomas, Senior Program Officer, BASC

kcthomas@nas.edu

Katie Thomas is a Senior Program Officer for the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate. She earned an M.S. in Environmental Science and Policy from Johns Hopkins University in 2009 and a B.S. from the University of Michigan in 2004. Since joining the National Academies in 2006, she has directed a number of high-profile studies on topics such as carbon dioxide removal, methane emissions, and extreme event attribution. She has also served as the rapporteur for four workshop summaries: Urban Forestry: Toward an Ecosystem Services Research Agenda; Linkages Between Arctic Warming and Mid-Latitude Weather Patterns; Improving the Understanding of Clouds and Aerosols in Climate Models; and Antarctic Sea Ice Variability in the Southern Ocean-Climate System.

Steven Kendall, Program Officer, CSTL

skendall@nas.edu

Steven Kendall, Ph.D., is program officer for the Committee on Science, Technology, and Law. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2011. Dr. Kendall has contributed to numerous National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reports including Securing the Vote: Protecting American Democracy (2018)Optimizing the Nation’s Investment in Academic Research (2016)International Summit on Human Gene Editing: A Global Discussion (2015)Identifying the Culprit: Assessing Eyewitness Identification (2014); Positioning Synthetic Biology to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century (2013); and others.

Laurie Geller, Senior Program Officer, BASC

lgeller@nas.edu

Laurie Geller is Senior Program Officer for the National Academies’ Polar Research Board (PRB) and for the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC). She has more than a decade of experience with the National Academies, directing numerous activities addressing polar science, climate and global change, air pollution, sustainable development, and other related topics. In recent years this has included managing the Arctic Matters public engagement initiative, the Committee on Strategic Planning for the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research, the Committee to Advise the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the joint NAS/UK Royal Society booklet Climate Change: Evidence and Causes, and the America’s Climate Choices suite of studies. Outside of her National Academies role, she has served as an AAAS Science Policy Fellow (with the U.S. EPA), as a Program Officer at the International Council for Science (ISCU) secretariat in Paris, and as a visiting Professor at American University-Paris. She has a Ph.D. in atmospheric chemistry from the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Erin Markovich, Senior Program Assistant and Research Assistant, BASC

emarkovich@nas.edu

Erin Markovich is currently a senior program assistant and research assistant with the Board on Atmospheric Science and Climate (BASC) and the Polar Research Board (PRB) at the National Academies. She was born and raised in Naperville, Illinois, a southwest suburb of Chicago. In May 2015, she earned a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and in August of that year, she moved to Washington, DC, to work for the National Academies. Erin has been a staff member of BASC and PRB since then and has provided support to numerous studies across the Academies in an administrative and research capacity. Erin remains connected to the atmospheric science community by staying involved in the American Meteorological Society and furthers her education both formally and informally through coursework and literature readings.

Study FAQ

What is the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM)?

NASEM is a private, nonprofit institution chartered by Congress in 1863 to provide science, technology, and health policy advice to the government. It is not part of the U.S. government.  NASEM enlists leading scientists, engineers, and other experts to answer scientific and technical issues facing the United States and the world. Members of study committees serve as volunteers and are not paid for their service.

Why is NASEM doing a study on strategies to reflect sunlight?

Global greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to increase and many countries’ efforts to meet emission reduction targets are falling short of the goals enshrined in the “Paris Agreement” on limiting global climate change. Minimizing and managing the anticipated climate change risks will require a portfolio of response strategies. There is widespread recognition that this portfolio must involve reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere (“mitigation”), adapting to climate change impacts that are unavoidable, and finding ways to remove and reliably sequester carbon from the atmosphere. While more controversial, there has been continued and growing interest to also explore possible strategies for limiting climate change through a variety of “climate intervention” or “geoengineering” approaches, including those that modify the amount of solar heating of the Earth.

Some of the main “solar radiation management” approaches of interest involve widespread distribution of small reflective particles in the stratosphere, augmentation of reflective cloud cover in the lower atmosphere,  and reduction of cirrus clouds that trap outgoing radiation in the upper troposphere. Preliminary modeling work indicates that these approaches do have the potential to reduce some near-term risks of climate change. However, they also introduce a wide array of potential risks (environmental, ethical, social, political, economic, legal), and concerns about such risks have thus far greatly constrained research on the topic, including the basic modeling and process-level research that must be advanced before even considering any real-world deployment studies at scales that would have a discernible effect on climate.

To address these challenges, there is a need to better define a research agenda that would improve our understanding of the potential effectiveness and of the potential risks of solar radiation management techniques. There is a parallel need to reach consensus on approaches and systems for governing such research. This NASEM study will explore these two needs in tandem, to allow iterative engagement and learning between those seeking to guide scientific research and those seeking to guide the governance of this research.

What is the focus of the study?

The study will focus on sunlight reflection strategies that involve atmospheric interventions, including marine cloud brightening, stratospheric aerosol injection, and cirrus cloud modification. It will consider trans-disciplinary research related to understanding the baseline chemistry, radiative balance, and other characteristics of the atmosphere; potential impacts and risks (both positive and negative) of these interventions on the atmosphere, climate system, natural and managed ecosystems, and human systems; technological feasibility of these interventions; and approaches and metrics for detecting, monitoring and quantifying the multiple physical and societal impacts of solar climate interventions.

The study will explore and recommend appropriate research governance mechanisms at international, national, and sub-national scales. It will consider research governance that already exists, examples of research governance mechanisms currently being used or considered for other areas of scientific inquiry that could be adapted to the realm of climate intervention research, and any potentially new frameworks required.

Has NASEM provided this type of guidance before?

Yes.  In 2015, NASEM released a study, Climate Intervention: Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earth, which was conducted to better understand the potential cost and performance of proposed strategies. This new study will build directly upon that earlier effort by focusing more directly in defining a research agenda and defining strategies for governing this research.

How are committee members chosen?

The Academies issues calls for nominations for committee members, seeking recognized experts from diverse disciplines and backgrounds. Each committee must include the full range of expertise and experience needed to address the study’s statement of task. The overall composition of the committee is evaluated to make sure that points of view are reasonably balanced so that the committee can carry out its charge objectively and credibly. A provisional slate is posted for a 20-day comment period. Once approved by the Presidents of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, all committee members are screened for conflict of interest. Committee members serve without pay and deliberate free of outside influence.

When does the committee meet?

The committee meets throughout the study process. Committee meeting dates will be posted on the website and sent out in email notifications.

When will the study be completed?

The study will be completed in early 2020.

Can I attend committee meetings?

All meetings in which the committee gathers information are open to the public. All meetings will be open via the web, and presentations will be recorded and posted to the study’s website.

Can I provide comments or information to the committee?

Yes. At information-gathering meetings, members of the public can present comments to the committee. Members of the public may also submit written statements and relevant information to the committee via the study’s website throughout the course of the study, and through emails addressed to ReflectingSunlight@nas.edu. All written comments and submitted materials will be shared with committee members and placed in the study’s public access file.

Can I see the comments and information submitted to the committee?

Written materials submitted to a study committee by external sources are listed in the project’s public access file and can be made available to the public upon request. For a copy of the list and to obtain copies of the materials (free to press and government employees) please send inquiries to:

Public Access Records Office (PARO)
The National Academies
Washington DC 20001
Tel: 202.334.3543
Email: paro@nas.edu

Normal business hours for PARO are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday.

Are Academies studies peer reviewed?

Yes. As a final check on the quality and objectivity of the study, all Academies reports must undergo a rigorous, independent external review by experts whose comments are provided anonymously to the committee members. The review process is structured to ensure that each report addresses its approved study charge and does not go beyond it, that the findings are supported by the scientific evidence and arguments presented, that the exposition and organization are effective, and that the report is impartial and objective.

Will the results of the study be made available to the public?

Yes.  After all committee members and appropriate Academies officials have signed off on the final report, it is transmitted to the sponsor of the study and is released to the public. An electronic version of the final report will be available to download for free at www.nap.edu upon completion of the study.

How will the results of this study be used?

The committee will produce a consensus report with findings and recommendations that will be available to the public upon its release after undergoing a rigorous external peer-review process. The final report will be directed at policy makers, the public, and the scientific community, and will be delivered to the study sponsors and to various parts of the U.S. government, including the U.S. Congress and the executive branch. Other derivative products will be designed to communicate the report’s findings to a lay audience.

Study Committee

The committee selection process is underway. Please follow the link below for more information and to nominate a committee member. The deadline for nominations is Friday, November 16. Once a committee slate has been proposed, the slate will be posted here for a 20-day public comment period.

Nominate a Committee Member

 

 

 

Related Reports

Climate Intervention: Carbon Dioxide Removal and Reliable Sequestration and Climate Intervention: Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earth

Climate intervention is no substitute for reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and adaptation efforts aimed at reducing the negative consequences of climate change. However, as our planet enters a period of changing climate never before experienced in recorded human history, interest is growing in the potential for deliberate intervention in the climate system to counter climate change. This study assesses the potential impacts, benefits, and costs of two different proposed classes of climate intervention: (1) carbon dioxide removal and (2) albedo modification (reflecting sunlight). Carbon dioxide removal strategies address a key driver of climate change, but research is needed to fully assess if any of these technologies could be appropriate for large-scale deployment. Albedo modification strategies could rapidly cool the planet’s surface but pose envi­ronmental and other risks that are not well understood and therefore should not be deployed at climate-altering scales; more research is needed to determine if albedo modification approaches could be viable in the future.

Resources

Sponsors

  • V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation
  • Christopher Reynolds Foundation
  • BAND Foundation
  • MacArthur Foundation
  • National Academy of Sciences’ Arthur L. Day Fund.