Africa’s R&D voice needed on use of solar engineering

A solar panel and battery
Copyright: Panos

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  • Experts discuss solar radiation management (SRM) governance in Kenya
  • They add that more R&D on SRM is needed in Africa to help address climate change
  • But an expert says that Africa cannot fund SRM tech because it is costly

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[NAIROBI] Sub-Saharan Africa needs more research on the science of solar to enable countries make decisions on the adoption of solar radiation management (SRM), experts say.

The experts explain that SRM is a climate engineering technology that seeks to reflect sunshine using tethered balloons in order to reduce global warming.

According to the African Academy of Sciences (AAS), much of the research and discussions on the potential of solar radiation management geoengineering to reduce adverse effects of climate change are occurring in the developed countries.

“The social problems that climate change has caused Sub-Saharan Africa are still fresh that we don’t have resources to invest in SRM.”

Shem Wandiga, Kenya’s University of Nairobi. 

The Kenya-headquartered AAS organised a workshop on SRM research governance in Kenya early this month (6 June) for researchers from science, technology and innovation institutions including universities.

According to AAS, the meeting was held in Kenya as technology proponents are looking for African input on how SRM research can be governed, and with the inclusion of more voices from the global south.

The experts are saying that SRM is a relatively new concept that could address the challenges of climate change but should be advanced with the involvement of key development players across the globe, especially policymakers.

“This is a concept that has been proposed to reduce the threats of climate change at early stages,” says Andy Parker, a senior research fellow from Germany-based Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies.

Parker tells SciDev.Net in an interview that through Sweden-based Stockholm Environment Institute and the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative, there are increased conversations to get the priorities and local voices of people, especially from the global South on how SRM technology should be governed.

He adds that computer modelling and experiments are already underway in countries such as China, Japan and Germany on components such as cloud formation.

“We want to increase the conversations with [local] people, especially on how they want the research to be governed,” he notes.

Asfawossen Asrat Kassaye, a professor of isotope geochemistry from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, says that solar engineering could reduce rising temperatures quickly, but adds that inadequate climate change data in Sub-Saharan Africa could hamper the progress of the technology.

Developing countries such as those in Sub-Saharan Africa cannot afford the high cost of SRM, according to Shem Wandiga, a professor of chemistry at the University of Nairobi’s Institute for Climate Change Adaptation, Kenya.

“The social problems that climate change has caused Sub-Saharan Africa are still fresh that we don’t have resources to invest in SRM,” Wandiga explains, adding that the consequences of SRM are not clear and that a lot of unknowns on the technology call for more research.

Sam Ogallah, a programme manager at Kenya-based Pan African Climate Justice, a coalition of African civil society organisations fighting climate change, says that the management of solar radiation should include Africans in the top decision-making level but not as mere participants.

However, he adds, the cost of research, modelling and the deployment of this technology may not be affordable to African countries.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.