Professor of Public Policy, HKS; Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics, SEAS
Solar geoengineering has been suggested as a tool that might reduce damage from anthropogenic climate change. Analysis often assumes that geoengineering would be used to maintain a constant global mean temperature. Under this scenario, geoengineering would be required either indefinitely (on societal time scales) or until atmospheric CO2 concentrations were sufficiently reduced. Impacts of climate change, however, are related to the rate of change as well as its magnitude. We thus describe an alternative scenario in which solar geoengineering is used only to constrain the rate of change of global mean temperature; this leads to a finite deployment period for any emissions pathway that stabilizes global mean temperature. The length of deployment and amount of geoengineering required depends on the emissions pathway and allowable rate of change, e.g. in our simulations, reducing the maximum approximately 0.3°C per decade rate of change in an RCP 4.5 pathway to 0.1°C per decade would require geoengineering for 160 years; under RCP?6.0, the required time nearly doubles. We demonstrate that feedback control can limit rates of change in a climate model. Finally, we note that a decision to terminate use of solar geoengineering does not automatically imply rapid temperature increases: feedback could be used to limit rates of change in a gradual phase-out.
MacMartin, Douglas G., Ken Caldeira, and David W. Keith. "Solar Geoengineering to Limit the Rate of Temperature Change." Philosophical Transactions A 372.2301 (December 2014).