The University of Cambridge has launched a new research lab to explore radical ways of fixing the Earth’s climate.
The Centre For Climate Repair has been established in response to concerns that current efforts to tackle climate change by reducing emissions will not be enough to halt or reverse damage to the environment.
The project is being co-ordinated by Sir David King, a former chief scientific adviser to the government, who warned that it was vital to explore every possible solution as time “is no longer on our side”.
“What we continue to do, what we do that is new and what we plan to do over the next ten to 12 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000,” he said.
The group will explore geo-engineering proposals once considered potentially harmful, but now seen as perhaps the best chance to repair the climate before it reaches a tipping point – if scientists manage to figure out a way of implementing them.
These include refreezing the Earth’s polar regions by spraying salt water high into the atmosphere to “whiten” clouds in the Arctic region to reflect heat back into space.
Another proposal is “greening” areas of the planet with vegetation, on sea and on land, to remove carbon dioxide from the air.
The options for achieving this include fertilising the sea with iron salts, which promote the growth of plankton, although previous experiments suggested such a scheme would not take up sufficient CO2 to be worthwhile and might disrupt the eco-system.
In October the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that changes on an unprecedented scale would be needed by society to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
The panel said countries needed to cut carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and to net zero by 2050, with steep cuts in other greenhouse gases such as methane.
Dr Emily Shuckburgh, who leads the Carbon Neutral Futures Initiative, said the initiative’s mission would be to “solve the climate problem”.
“It has to be and we can’t fail on it,” she said. “This really is one of the most important challenges of our time.”