South Africa: UCT Researchers to Embark on Pioneering Study on Potential Impacts of Solar Geoengineering in Southern Africa

press release

A group of scientists from the University of Cape Town (UCT) is about to embark on a study on the potential impacts of solar radiation management (SRM) on the climate of southern Africa, as part of a global research initiative on SRM.

SRM has been proposed as a possible approach to reducing some of the risks from climate change. The process, still theoretical and model-based, would involve the injection of reflective aerosols into the upper atmosphere to reflect away a small percentage of incoming solar radiation. If this could be done in a safe and reliable way, it would become the only known way to quickly reduce the increase in temperatures.

Many studies have demonstrated that current Nationally Determined Contributions (NCDs) set the world on a trajectory to 3 degrees of warming, which will have significant impacts on the climate and climate extremes, ecosystem services and the global socioeconomic system. While SRM might be able to help reduce global mean temperature, there are uncertainties around geoengineering and its impacts on the climate.

As part of the eight grants awarded by the new DECIMALS Fund (Developing Country Impacts Modelling Analysis for SRM), the new research programme will try to understand how SRM might affect the climate system in southern Africa, with a focus on weather and climate extremes.

Dr Romaric Odoulami from UCT's African Climate & Development Initiative (ACDI) will lead the project, with Dr Chris Lennard from UCT's Climate Systems Analysis Group (CSAG) as co-investigator.

Using observations and climate models, they will start by examining drought and heat extremes and the atmospheric dynamics that drive them. This information will then be used to assess the potential impacts of SRM on both drought and heat extremes, frequency of potential crop failure and suitability of different crop types.

Recent droughts in Southern Africa serve as a reminder of the region's vulnerability to climate change.

The 2015/16 summer rainfall failure over Southern Africa led to 30 million people being food insecure in South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana, while the three-year winter rainfall deficit that nearly caused Cape Town to run out of water in 2018 was made 3 times more likely due to anthropogenic climate change.

According to Dr Odoulami: "The DECIMALS Fund is a unique opportunity for researchers from developing countries to contribute to the geoengineering discussions. Our research project is the first in the region to explore how solar radiation management might influence damaging climate events and their impacts on food security in Southern Africa."

The DECIMALS Fund also provides the opportunity to work alongside scientists from Argentina, Bangladesh, Benin Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Indonesia, Iran, and Jamaica, as well as the world's leading SRM modelling experts.

DECIMALS was set up by the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative, or SRMGI, a non-governmental project that was founded in 2010 by Environmental Defense Fund, The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), and the Royal Society to build developing country capacity to evaluate and discuss SRM.

SRMGI Project Director Andy Parker commented: "I'm proud that the DECIMALS Fund is able to support Dr Odoulami and his team. As the first-ever SRM research project conducted in a Southern African country, this ground-breaking study will improve our understanding of how extreme climate events such as drought and heatwaves could be affected by sun-dimming and will open the door for a conversation about SRM research and its governance in the region."

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