About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

I’m now used to the stares when I suggest refreezing the arctic—the polite puzzlement, and occasionally less-polite reaction of TV news anchors. But this incredulity reveals more about our own attitudes to climate change—that despite the rhetoric, we haven’t yet grasped how high, wide and deep the threat is. If it came in the shape of a Hollywood-friendly asteroid, all options would be on the table.

It’s clear that our collective action isn’t enough to limit the rise to 1.5°C, let alone to start undoing our historic emissions to bring this down to safer levels. So we are in the business of buying time. And in the market for approaches that can hold the minute hand back from midnight long enough for the world to complete the net zero transition.

This means sensible, proportionate climate repair must be part of our plan. This includes removing excess CO2 from the atmosphere—as logical as taking pollution from a stream. And packaged with this, refreezing the arctic. Not as some aesthetic restoration, but an urgent fix—a crack in the damn that threatens to submerge our wider efforts if not prioritised.

It now looks certain that we have passed a thermodynamic tipping point in the arctic that will snowball. The loss of summer arctic sea ice—domino one—is accelerating the melting of ice on Greenland—domino two—which is the problem for sea levels, meaning dominos three through 100 are almost all of our global cities.

It now looks certain that we have passed a thermodynamic tipping point in the arctic.

This might sound hyperbolic, but if Greenland is allowed to melt sea levels will rise by 7 metres. Hollywood stuff.

The good news is we’re not talking shipping in hotel ice machines. What climate repair scientists are proposing is a programme of arctic temperature stabilisation, most probably achieved by the very un-Hollywood spraying of salty sea water into the clouds over the arctic. This will brighten them, reflecting sufficient sunlight to maintain through the summer the sea ice formed in the winter, and cut off this doomsday chain reaction at its source.

The equally good news is that this global win doesn’t need a global team, and as such can avoid being delayed by protracted global processes like COP. Instead, it can conceivably be achieved by a handful of nations working and funding in concert. Global agreement is needed, however, to carry this through.

Climate repair has risks if not done right, or if thought of as an “instead” rather than an “as well as” ending emissions. But sensible, well-planned climate repair is a serious part of our toolkit. The UK should help lead this effort—demonstrating its commitment to preventing dangerous climate change and using its relative wealth to buy everyone some time. Time is needed to achieve deep and rapid emissions reduction globally and to remove excess greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere.

This article was originally published as part of Minister for the Future in partnership with Prospect. Illustrations by Ian Morris. You can read the original feature on the Prospect website.