This report presents key findings from a workshop on managing the contribution of Solar Radiation Modification (SRM), a form of solar geoengineering, and Climate Change to Global Catastrophic Risk (GCR), which was hosted by Gideon Futerman and SJ Beard at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk on March 28th and 29th 2023. The workshop was informed by a participatory futures exercise using the ParEvo technique that explored futures for SRM and SRM governance between 2030 and 2050, which some workshop participants took part in. Initial results of the exercise were shared with workshop participants and full results will be published separately.
Participants at the workshop emphasised that SRM can both contribute to and mitigate GCR; however, at present, high levels of uncertainty make it difficult to perform a complete assessment of risk. This report thus focuses on participants’ exploration of the different pathways to global catastrophes and the role SRM might play in them, the factors they saw as influencing the interaction between SRM and GCR, and their proposals for improving the governance of SRM and SRM research.
Participants identified many ways in which SRM may interact with GCR. Discussions of possible pathways towards global catastrophe typically involved interstate conflict, termination shock, and/or catastrophic climate impacts, while discussion of pathways away from global catastrophe involved the reduction of climate damages by SRM deployment. However, many other factors were also seen as influencing SRM's interaction with GCR. These included the type of deployment and governance, the perception of SRM’s impacts and importance among politicians and publics, securitisation and militarisation, geopolitics, extreme weather, knowledge networks, wealthy individuals and corporations, and developments in artificial intelligence. Whether these interactions are net contributors or mitigators of GCR will depend on how they evolve and interact.
All these factors are contingent on human actions, perceptions, and behaviour. Ultimately, social, political, and geopolitical systems will be as important as physical systems in determining whether SRM reduces or increases GCR.
While it was generally felt that the current knowledge network around SRM has limited influence, participants also believed that there were actions that could be taken to reliably reduce GCR and that this ought to be a consideration in research and policy and the report makes a number of recommendations based on these.