Press release

Debate at UN environmental summit highlights need for global ban on solar geoengineering

February 29, 2024
  • Switzerland ultimately withdrew its resolution on solar radiation modification at the Sixth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-6) after governments could not even reach consensus on a knowledge repository for the controversial technologies.
  • The resolution went in several directions during an intense set of negotiations, with different nations seeking to adapt the resolution to suit their own goals. Some African, Latin American and Pacific Island states were rightly vocal in their call for a solar geoengineering non-use agreement.
  • OceanCare echoes these calls for a global solar geoengineering non-use agreement to avoid the risk of opening a Pandora’s box of technologies that could undermine climate action now, inflict irreversible harm on the planet and further destabilise the global climate.

Solar Radiation Modification (SRM) refers to technologies that seek to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the earth to cool it – such as injecting sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, launching giant parasols into space or brightening clouds over the ocean.  

Proponents of these interventions argue that by reducing the energy received from the sun, we could limit the effects of climate change. OceanCare experts warn that solar radiation modification technologies instead risk further destabilising an already deeply disturbed climate system, threatening to exacerbate uncontrolled shifts in regional climate and weather, biodiversity loss, food security, global injustice, and human rights abuses for generations to come.  

James Kerry, Senior Marine & Climate Scientist, explained:  

“OceanCare’s position is clear: we support a solar geoengineering non-use agreement. The Swiss decision to withdraw the resolution on solar radiation modification has avoided further legitimisation of these technologies, as the language of the resolution was heading in the wrong direction. 

“The debates showed that a small minority of countries, including the United States, want to silo research of this issue under a research program, that lacks transparency and is in part privately funded, in a bid to keep these technologies on the table.” 

“On the other hand, we credit the strong stance taken by some Global South countries that called for a solar geoengineering non-use agreement. The African Group’s voice was especially important in this process. 

“The climate change crisis we are facing is far too serious to flirt with unproven and highly risky technologies. Our collective, global focus should be on transitioning away from fossil fuels as rapidly as possible, including a ban on any further oil and gas exploration. 

The world’s environment ministers came together at the UN headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya this week for the sixth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-6) to discuss how multilateralism can help tackle the triple planetary crisis of climate change, loss of nature and biodiversity, and pollution and contamination. The formal adoption of all resolutions happens at the end of the meeting, on Friday, 1 March. 

United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA)

The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) is the world’s highest environmental decision-making body, with universal membership and ministerial representation from all 193 UN Member States. The sixth session of the UNEA will take place from 26 February to 1 March 2024 at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. At UNEA-6, governments and other stakeholders will discuss how multilateralism can help tackle the triple planetary crisis of climate change, loss of nature and biodiversity, and pollution and waste.  

OceanCare is focusing on two resolutions: one on “Strengthening ocean and seas governance to tackle climate change, marine biodiversity loss and pollution” (UNEP/OECPR.6/L.20), proposed by Costa Rica and the EU and its Member States, and one on “Solar Radiation Modification (SRM)” (UNEP/OECPR.6/L.14), proposed by Switzerland and co-sponsors. SRM is an umbrella term for a range of hypothetical technologies designed to mask the warming effect of greenhouse gases by reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth. 

OceanCare’s involvement in the UNEA 

OceanCare’s policy and science specialists have been heavily engaged in the deliberations on the priority resolutions during the OECPR (Open Ended Committee of Permanent Representatives) week preceeding UNEA. This has included attending all relevant sessions and working groups where member states negotiate the resolutions. 

OceanCare has been accredited by UNEP and UNEA since December 2015, is a member of the Science and Technology Major Group and is part of UNEP’s Global Partnership on Marine Litter. OceanCare’s work within UNEA focuses on plastics, underwater noise, aquatic wildlife, and governance. Since 2017, OceanCare has participated in the biennial UN Environment Assembly (UNEA).