New Initiative on Climate Engineering Awarded

Image of David Keith and Joshua Horton

The Weatherhead Center for International Affairs recently awarded $250,000 to fund a new Weatherhead Initiative on Climate Engineering. The Center funds the initiative through its Weatherhead Initiative Research Cluster in International Affairs grant, which supports large-scale and groundbreaking research in the realm of international affairs.

The initiative is led by Principal Investigator David Keith, Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Joshua Horton, research director of geoengineering at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, will serve as project manager. Additional Harvard and non-Harvard faculty members round out a robust research team.

Climate engineering, or geoengineering, is the deliberate, large-scale alteration of the climate system to counteract climate change caused by accumulating greenhouse gases. This new initiative will address some of the pertinent questions about climate change that fall outside the confines of the natural sciences, such as implications for politics, governance, economics, security, game theory, and more. By addressing these global topics, the research team hopes to fill in gaps in the existing literature.

The team will focus on solar geoengineering, which is a particular form of climate engineering that aims to reduce the planet’s absorption of solar energy. Of particular interest is one form of solar geoengineering that involves introducing small particles into the upper atmosphere to scatter sunlight back to space. How this may work in conjunction with carbon geoengineering, which focuses on lowering the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, is a major element of the team’s research.

The team's goal is to build a vibrant, interdisciplinary research community at Harvard with sharply divergent positions on geoengineering. The initiative features several Harvard-based sub-projects, each involving a few different investigators. These sub-projects will explore different dimensions of geoengineering through case studies, experiments, and theoretical modeling. Project-related talks, presentations, and discussion groups will be held at the Weatherhead Center each semester to share research findings. Each sub-project team will publish a peer-reviewed research article, which will be included in a larger edited volume with additional project findings.

Please visit the WCFIA page on Weatherhead Initiatives for additional information and history on past initiatives.

Lauren McLaughlinCommunications Coordinator, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs

Photo: David Keith (left) and Joshua Horton speaking at their inaugural seminar of the Weatherhead Initiative on Climate Engineering on September 13, 2016, entitled "Solar Geoengineering and International Affairs: An Introduction." Credit: Lauren McLaughlin