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Climate intervention requires international research and the Global South has contributions to make

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By Joshua Amponsem, Irfan Ullah

· 5 min read

Challenging times are ahead for all of us who call this small blue planet home. The planet will continue warming due to emissions already in the atmosphere at least for the next 40 years even if we stop polluting right now, and yet emissions continue to rise. Tragically, we are in a place where emission reductions are not advancing fast enough and we don't have any indication that our elected leaders are ready to step up to the challenge. In this context, we’ll have to rely on human ingenuity and our unprecedented problem solving capacity to protect our common future. All options must be on the table.

Some of these are known as climate interventions. They are approaches for rapidly reducing greenhouse gasses or warming in the atmosphere that have the potential to reduce the impacts of climate change. It is critical to know if climate interventions could buy us some time to reach net zero emissions and keep people and natural systems safer. We need to understand how our climate system works so we can make informed decisions if we need to. Therefore, research on climate interventions is imperative, which is why over 100 scientists recently recommended it be an urgent topic for research. 

As young climate experts leading multiple climate initiatives in Africa and Asia, we are directly seeing the intensifying impacts of the climate crisis. Under the “best-case” projections, hundreds of millions of people face drought, flood, and displacement from climate change. These scenarios are completely unacceptable. 

Nothing less than our very own existence is at stake. In Ghana, over the past decade, coastal erosion has taken about 37% of our coastal lands leading to the chronic displacement of over 3,000 people. Currently, in countries like South Sudan, the worst floods of the century are putting over 1 million people in severe food insecurity and displacement. In southern Africa, 1.4 million people in Mozambique are heavily affected by cyclones, which have resulted in the deaths of 314 people this year alone and the destruction of infrastructure, including over 1000 schools that serve over a million children and youth. Simultaneously, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia have been facing severe droughts for the past two years leading to extreme poverty, food insecurity, and in some cases, conflict. And the worst is yet to come. 

Meanwhile, Asia has become the poster child of dramatic global warming impacts. In 2022, devastating floods affected over 33 million people in Pakistan, resulting in over 1,700 fatalities and more than 2.2 million damaged or destroyed homes. Beginning in May of that year, northeastern India and Bangladesh were hit by deadly floods, which affected over 9 million people and caused around 300 deaths. However, there are concerns that the summer of 2023 could be equally disastrous, with unprecedented heat waves predicted due to weak western disturbance and the prevailing La Nina condition.

Most people in positions of power are paying attention. The recently released United States government report, and the statement from the European Union on the Climate-Security nexus, come as the latest IPCC scientific report echoes the rapidly closing window of opportunity to address climate change. Given the dire climate impacts, rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions is imperative. But this is not enough, which is why the U.S. government and the EU are now pointing to the need to research how large-scale climate interventions work. In the process, we can collect important science data that will improve our knowledge of climate systems.

Accepting the need for research does not mitigate the need for caution. To be clear, we are not advocating for implementation. Doing so at this stage with so many unknowns would be irresponsible. We should be cautious about technologies for changing the climate when it is imperative to severely reduce the emissions that drive the problem, but that does not preclude asking and answering critical research questions about how to reduce the most dire impacts of climate change while we do so.

When looking toward the future, there are lessons that can be learned from the past. Today, renewables represent one of the most effective mitigation measures, but they faced resistance related to possible adverse impacts from manufacturing and deployment when they were first introduced. As a consequence, solar energy technology development is inadequate in Africa and Africans have fallen further behind. Given the early opportunities that Africa forfeited for solar, countries in the Global South should not miss out on the conversations about climate intervention.

Universities in the Global South must have active roles in scientific research in collaboration with institutions and governments in the Global North. Our perspective and experience should be incorporated in research protocols. We can be valuable contributors to potential solutions to this crisis created mainly far away from our homes. Their participation ensures the development of context-specific, cost-effective climate intervention solutions while also promoting capacity building among local scientists and policymakers. Furthermore, their involvement fosters equitable representation in global climate intervention discussions, leading to a more inclusive approach in combating climate change.

There are multiple opinions about whether research on climate interventions should move forward. This debate has similarities to an earlier conversation about adaptation, which is preparing for the impacts of climate change. Adaptation was largely ignored for many years when many argued that reducing emissions was the only way, until extreme weather events started reversing years of development in frontline communities. This is the same for when models used to predict future climate scenarios were tagged as unreliable. Today, models have been validated. We may be right to say that one of the biggest hurdles to the climate fight is misplaced denial. 

Climate solutions for Africa, Asia, and other vulnerable regions should be led locally, which means that research capacity in the Global South is needed. A report released by SilverLining has an entire section dedicated to how research on climate intervention can flow between the U.S. and countries in the Global South. We are all on the same boat. Let's move forward together.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the authors

Joshua Amponsem is a Ghanaian climate activist and Co-Director of the new Youth Climate Justice Fund. He is the former Climate Lead at the Office of the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth. and the Founder of Green Africa Youth Organization. He has almost a decade of experience of working with young people on Climate Action, Disaster Risk, and Resilience Building.

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Irfan Ullah is the founder of Sustainability Week Pakistan. He has a Joint Master’s degree from the University of Bonn and the United Nations University Institute of Environment and Human Security UNU-EHS Bonn. He has several years of multi-sectoral experience spanning from disaster risk reduction, climate risk insurance, climate change adaptation and resilience, to community mobilization, and youth development. Irfan is currently working as a Consultant at UNICEF.

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