Populist and authoritarian leaders are increasingly coming to power in large countries. They often have a climate sceptic approach and do away with mitigation policies when coming to power. Increasing impacts of extreme meteorological events linked to climate change could lead to a situation where the supporters of the populist leader or elites crucial for the survival of an authoritarian regime are pushing to do something to address climate change. In order not to lose power, the leader may look for quick and cheap solutions. In such a context, solar radiation modification (SRM), for example, by stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI), will become very attractive as it is likely to have low costs and rapid effects. Populist or authoritarian governments are unlikely to care for negative impacts of SRM abroad as they often act nationalistically with an explicit disdain for multilateral solutions. We discuss the incentive structure and political economy that populist and authoritarian leaders may face regarding unilateral use of SRM and elaborate how the international community could try to prevent or at least ‘contain’ such unilateral uses of SRM. Unfortunately, such ‘containment’ is contingent on the most powerful states not being populist or authoritarian regimes.
- The international community needs to proactively address the threat of unilateral implementation of solar radiation modification by introducing robust global monitoring systems for such actions as well as a system of credible sanctions against regimes found to implement solar radiation modification.
- A consensus‐oriented approach as required under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) would not allow a timely reaction against unilateral solar radiation modification. Moreover, it can be blocked by a small number of authoritarian and populist regimes. A broad coalition of democratic countries should be formed which could mount credible sanctions.
- Given that unilateral implementation of solar radiation modification by authoritarian regimes could start relatively quickly, triggered by impacts of meteorological extreme events, the international response to discovery of preparations needs to be coordinated in an effective and rapid manner.
- The democratic coalition needs to have clear procedures in place that can serve as a credible deterrent. The design of such procedures should take lessons from international arms control into account.