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The “Geoengineers” Decide Our Collective Fates With No Regulation or Oversight Whatsoever


Geoengineering the Climate? A Southern Hemisphere perspective A Symposium organised by the National Committee for Earth System Science

Solar radiation management through stratospheric aerosol enhancement Greg Bodeker Bodeker Scientific Introduction Concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the Earth‘s atmosphere continue to rise as a result of anthropogenic activities. The resultant changes in the radiative balance of the atmosphere have affected climate to date, and much larger changes are projected for the future. Most countries now recognise the need for action to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. However, the short-term costs associated with reducing present day emissions are considered by many policymakers to be prohibitively high and therefore politically unpalatable. There is growing pressure to consider stop gap measures that will mitigate the effects of accumulating GHGs in the atmosphere while alternative low- carbon technologies are developed. Solar radiation management (SRM) through stratospheric aerosol enhancement (SAE) has been proposed as one such approach.

SRM by forced injection of sulfate aerosols into the lower stratosphere cools the climate by reflecting incoming solar radiation. The same process occurs after large volcanic eruptions and so in one sense this approach seeks to replicate post-volcanic eruption conditions, although steady increases in stratospheric aerosol loading would be required to offset the effects of ever increasing GHG concentrations. Such an approach need not necessarily use sulfate aerosols and some of the disadvantages of SAE listed below might be circumvented by using different particles. However, injecting e.g. SO2 or H2S into the lower stratosphere is currently the only economically/technologically feasible approach and so is the only approach considered here. The most cost effective method of delivering sulfur to the lower stratosphere would be a custom built fleet of aircraft, although rockets, aircraft/rocket combinations, artillery and balloons have all been suggested.

SAE acts on very different time-scales to increases in GHG concentrations. Because of its long atmospheric lifetime, a unit mass emission of CO2 imposes a radiative forcing on the climate for many decades committing the global economy to a multi-decade programme of SAE. On the other hand there may be economic incentives for implementing a SAE programme e.g. by claiming GHG emissions credits through any international protocol where such offsetting is permitted.

Advantages of solar radiation management over other proposed geoengineering schemes

Effective: There are no technological barriers to implementing SAE and no inherent limit in its ability to mitigate a change in global temperatures.

Affordable: Some tens of billions of US$ annually, although this does not include the environmental costs of implementing the programme.

Reversible: If unforeseen side effects of SAE become apparent, or if SAE is no longer required (e.g. because atmospheric GHG concentrations are reduced through other policies), it can be halted quickly; the e-folding time for stratospheric aerosols is about one year.

Timely: With the necessary financial investment, SAE could be implemented within the next years to a decade.

Photosynthesis: An increase in stratospheric aerosol loading reduces direct incoming solar radiation and increases scattered, indirect radiation. This change in the direct/diffuse ratio allows plant canopies to photosynthesize more efficiently thereby increasing their capacity as a carbon sink.

Tuneable: It may be possible to inject aerosols only into one region of the stratosphere (e.g. the high latitudes) and only during certain months of the year to fine-tune the effects on surface climate.

Disadvantages of solar radiation management through stratospheric aerosol enhancement Ozone depletion: Stratospheric sulfate aerosols provide surfaces for heterogeneous chemical reactions that destroy ozone.

Regional climate change: Because SRM modulates incoming short-wave solar radiation, as opposed to GHGs which modulate outgoing long-wave terrestrial radiation, the diurnal, seasonal and spatial pattern of the radiative forcing change through SRM is quite different to that resulting from atmospheric accumulation of GHGs. A particular issue here is changes in the hydrological cycle resulting from temporal/spatial mismatch in the radiative forcing patterns of stratospheric sulfate aerosols and GHGs.

Continued ocean acidification: CO2 emissions would likely continue and because about half of excess CO2 in the atmosphere is taken up by the ocean, progressive ocean acidification will threaten ocean biology.

Whitening of the sky: By scattering incoming solar radiation in a way very different to Rayleigh scattering, aerosols in the stratosphere would whiten the sky.

Reduced solar power generation: While the total surface irradiance would decrease by only 1.5-2%, the change in the direct/diffuse ratio will significantly reduce solar power generation from many facilities that rely on focussing direct beam irradiance.

Exit strategy: If maintaining a SAE programme becomes economically prohibitive and is abruptly terminated, extremely rapid warming would follow. Many ecological systems are as sensitive to the rate of warming as to the magnitude of the warming.

Control: Because the effects of SAE will be regionally different, how will the optimum level of stratospheric aerosol loading be determined? Should the parties funding the programme have the freedom to optimize their climate at the expensive of others?


The potential advantages and disadvantages of geoengineering through SAE detailed above all assume that the tools that we have at our disposal to assess the likely consequences of geoengineering are adequate for the task. It is possible, and maybe even likely, that this is not the case. The interconnectedness of atmospheric processes may introduce some surprises e.g. continued increases in CO2 concentrations would accelerate the Brewer-Dobson circulation which would speed the  ̳flushing‘ of the stratosphere and hence reduce residence times for aerosols in the stratosphere. Assessments of the Earth system models used to assess the consequences of different geoengineering actions are currently underway. Once these assessments have been completed we will better understand the shortcomings of the models. Additional research should then lead to improvements in the models. Once this research → model development → model assessment process has been iterated a few times, we should have greater confidence in their projections of the consequences of intentional stratospheric sulfate aerosol enhancement. This will take time. However, the complexity of the issue has resulted in the timing of the needs of international policymakers vastly exceeding the speed at which the scientific community can provide robust information.

Solar radiation management through stratospheric aerosol enhancement – focus on ozone loss risk Robyn Schofield School of Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne The explosive volcanic eruptions of Agung, El Chichón and Mount Pinatubo all injected large quantities of SO2 into the stratosphere. The Mount Pinatubo eruption injected 10 TgS, which resulted in a global decrease in temperature of 0.5 K. The impact of stratospheric sulfate aerosol enhancement on temperature can generally be well simulated with climate models: cooling throughout the troposphere and warming in the stratosphere. However, important modelling deficiencies have been identified i.e. current climate models of volcanic perturbations poorly simulate the observed temperature variations in the tropical and polar lowermost stratosphere. These regions are of particular interest as ozone has been decreasing there in the last decades. Ozone has a positive feedback on the local temperature and ensuring ozone is realistic is vital for chemical – climate system modelling1.

There have been few studies to date on the implications for ozone resulting from the deliberate introduction of SO2 to the stratosphere. In one study, the response of ozone to increased stratospheric aerosol loadings was decreased ozone everywhere. However, another study, considering other variables (i.e. varying CFC/Halon loadings and temperature feedbacks) found that sustained SO2 injections would lead to increases in tropical ozone due to weaker tropical upwelling and a slowing down of the Brewer-Dobson Circulation.

The differences seen by these studies highlight the challenges that the modelling community faces in assessing the impacts of proposed solar radiation management (SRM) through deliberate stratospheric sulfur injection. To model artificially increasing sulfate aerosol requires chemistry climate models (CCMs) capable of modelling accurately:

Stratospheric ozone stratospheric aerosol the tropical tropopause region tropical convection cloud microphysics These modelling areas all produce radiative, temperature and chemical feedbacks that implicitly impact the other areas. To date, CCMs have not addressed these modelling challenges2 to the precision that is required to answer the questions posed by stratospheric aerosol enhancement SRM. This talk highlights lessons learnt from volcanic eruptions and model improvements required to bridge current capability gaps in the assessment of SRM scenarios.


Gettelman, A., et al. (2010), Multimodel assessment of the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere: Tropics and global trends, J. Geophys. Res., 115, D00M08, doi:10.1029/2009JD013638.

SPARC CCMVal (2010), SPARC Report on the Evaluation of Chemistry-Climate Models, V. Eyring, T. G. Shepherd, D. W. Waugh (Eds.), SPARC Report No. 5, WCRP-132, WMO/TD-No. 1526, http://www.atmosp.physics.utoronto.ca/SPARC.

Cloud brightening through aerosols – Leon Rotstayn

Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Aspendale, Vic, Australia One geoengineering proposal aims to counteract the positive radiative imbalance due to elevated greenhouse gas concentrations by increasing the reflectivity of marine clouds. Specifically, it has been proposed to use automated ships to spray droplets of seawater into the marine boundary layer, where they evaporate to form an elevated layer of sea-salt aerosols. The aerosols would have a size designed to make them efficient cloud condensation nuclei (CCN). They would thus nucleate increased concentrations of cloud droplets in marine clouds, thereby increasing their reflectivity (Latham, 1990). Scientific aspects were considered by Latham et al. (2008), and associated technological issues were discussed by Salter et al. (2008).

At least two groups have used coupled ocean-atmosphere global climate models (GCMs) to explore the sensitivity of climate to such a perturbation (Jones et al., 2009; Rasch et al., 2009). These studies used very different strategies, For example, Jones et al. seeded areal extents ranging from 1 to 4% of the ocean surface whereas Rasch et al. seeded areas ranging from 20 to 70%. Their modelled responses differed in many respects, e.g., Jones et al. simulated a sharp decrease in rainfall over the Amazon, whereas Rasch et al. did not. A common feature of both studies is that there were important changes in regional climatic features, in addition to the expected amelioration of global-mean warming. In a follow-up study, Jones et al. (2011) compared the climatic effects of increasing the reflectivity of marine stratocumulus clouds with another geoengineering method (stratospheric SO2 injection). They noted that the extent of regional climatic changes depends on the degree of inhomogeneity of the radiative forcing produced by each geoengineering method. This is consistent with earlier modelling studies of anthropogenic aerosol forcing, in which it was pointed out that a substantial part of the climatic response to aerosol forcing is related to the spatially inhomogeneous nature of the forcing (Rotstayn and Lohmann, 2002).

Another more process-oriented study used a global aerosol transport model to quantify how an imposed flux of sea spray particles affects natural aerosol processes, particle size distribution, and cloud droplet number concentrations (CDNC; Korhonen et al., 2010). Using spray emission rates comparable to those implied by Jones et al. (2009) and Rasch et al. (2009), Korhonen et al. predicted CDNC changes that were relatively small (less than 20%) and even negative in some areas. When spray emissions were increased by a factor of five, substantial increases in CDNC were achieved; however the authors noted some inadvertent effects of the spray emissions on chemical reactions in the seeded regions.

These differences highlight the need for a more systematic evaluation of such seeding strategies. Simulations of the global climatic response to any perturbation must be carried out using coupled ocean-atmosphere GCMs. Only these models (which include a dynamic ocean) are capable of simulating the climatic response in a realistic manner. However, current GCMs include very simplified treatments of key processes involving aerosols and aerosol-cloud interactions, and some of these processes are still not well understood at the microphysical level. Thus there is also a need for process-oriented studies (observations, field experiments and fine-scale modelling) to complement any research program based on GCMs.


Jones A, Haywood J, Boucher O (2009). Climate impacts of geoengineering marine stratocumulus clouds. J. Geophys. Res., 114, D10106. DOI: 10.1029/2008JD011450.

Jones A, Haywood J, Boucher O (2011). A comparison of the climate impacts of geoengineering by stratospheric SO2 injection and by brightening of marine stratocumulus cloud. Atmos. Sci. Lett., 12, 176–183, DOI: 10.1002/asl.291.

Korhonen H, Carslaw KS., Romakkaniemi S (2010). Enhancement of marine cloud albedo via controlled sea spray injections: a global model study of the influence of emission rates, microphysics and transport, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 10, 4133–4143, DOI: 10.5194/acp-10-4133-2010.

Latham J (1990). Control of global warming?, Nature, 347, 339–340.

Latham J, Rasch P, Chen C-C, Kettles L, Gadian A, Gettelman A, Morrison H, Bower K, Choularton T (2008).

Global temperature stabilization via controlled albedo enhancement of low-level maritime clouds, Phil.

Trans. Royal Soc. A, 366, 3969–3978. DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2008.0137.

Rasch PJ, Latham J, Chen C-C (2009). Geoengineering by cloud seeding: influence on sea ice and climate system, Environ. Res. Lett., 4, 045112, DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/4/4/045112.

Rotstayn LD, Lohmann U (2002). Tropical rainfall trends and the indirect aerosol effect, J. Climate, 15, 2103– 2116. DOI: 10.1175/1520-0442(2002)015<2103:TRTATI>2.0.CO;2.

Salter S, Sortino G, Latham J (2008). Sea-going hardware for the cloud albedo method of reversing global warming, Phil. Trans. Royal Soc. A, 366, 3989–4006. DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2008.0136.

Response on cloud brightening through aerosols Steven T. Siems Monash University It has long been appreciated that marine stratocumulus clouds have a strong cooling effect on the Earth‘s climate due to their strong increase to the albedo and their weak change on the outgoing long wave radiation. Over 25 years ago Randall et al. (1984) observed that a 4% increase in the coverage of stratocumulus clouds would provide enough cooling to counteract a doubling of the concentration of carbon dioxide. Moreover, it has also been long appreciated that these clouds can readily be manipulated through anthropogenic action. For example, the Monterey Area Ship Track Experiment (Durkee et al. 2000) was designed to ―investigate the processes behind anthropogenic modification of cloud albedo.‖ Focusing on an Australian context, we are not located near any large body of sub-tropical stratocumulus clouds such as those off the coast of California or Chile. Over the Southern Ocean, however, the fractional cloud cover is even greater than such regions; the annual cloud cover is commonly above 80% (e.g. Bennartz 2007). Mace (2010) employed CloudSat to show that much of this cloud cover comes from clouds with tops below 3 km. These cloud systems are of particular importance for the wintertime storms and precipitation across the southern portion of Australia.

Climatologically, these clouds are poorly understood. Trenberth and Fasullo (2010) noted that the low-altitude clouds over the Southern Ocean are poorly represented in both present day reanalyses and coupled global climate models in comparison to other regions of the world. Their albedo is sensitive to the emissions of dimethylsulfide (DMS) production from phytoplankton (i.e. the CLAW hypothesis) (e.g. Ayers and Cainey, 2007.) The environment is highly pristine and mixed heavily through wind shear rather than convection.

We have come to further appreciate that such clouds are commonly composed of supercooled liquid water (Morrison et al. 2011). The predominance of supercooled liquid water in these clouds suggests that they may be highly sensitive to anthropogenic forcing through the emission of ice nuclei. The Hallet-Mossop process of ice multiplication was discovered of the coast of Tasmania (Mossop et al. 1970). Further, Tasmania is perhaps the only region in the globe to have found a statistically significant response to cloud seeding (Morrison et al. 2009.) In this light the low-altitude clouds over the Southern Ocean have the potential to be a unique target for geoengineering, although it is completely unclear as to the effectiveness or consequences of such a trial.


Ayers, G. and J. Cainey, (2007) The CLAW hypothesis: a review of the major developments. Environmental Chemisty, 4(6) 366–374.

Bennartz, R, (2007) Global assessment of marine boundary layer cloud droplet number concentration from satellite. Geophys. Res. Lett., 113, D20107.

Durkee, P.A., K.J. Noone, R.T. Bluth, (2000) The Monterey Area Ship Track Experiment. J. Atmos. Sci., 57, 2523–2541.

Mace, G. G., (2010) Cloud properties and radiative forcing over the maritime storm tracks of the Southern Ocean and North Atlantic derived from A-Train. J. Geophys. Res., 115, D10201.

Morrison, A.E., S.T. Siems, M.J. Manton and A. Nazarov, (2009) On the Analysis of a Cloud Seeding Data Set over Tasmania, J. Appl. Meteor. and Clim., 48, 1267-1280.

Morrison, A.E., S.T. Siems, M.J. Manton, (2011) A Three-Year Climatology of Cloud-Top Phase over the Southern Ocean and North Pacific. J. Climate, 24, 2405–2418.

Mossop, S. C., Ono, A. and Wishart, E. R., (1970) Ice particles in maritime clouds near Tasmania. Q. J. Roy. Met. Soc., 96: 487–508.

Randall, D. A., J. A. Coakley, D. H. Lenschow, C. W. Fairall, R. A. Kropfli, (1984) Outlook for Research on Subtropical Marine Stratification Clouds. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 65, 1290–1301.

Trenberth, K.E., J.T. Fasullo, (2010) Simulation of Present-Day and Twenty-First-Century Energy Budgets of the Southern Oceans. J. Climate, 23, 440-454.

A Realistic View of Geoengineering as a Complement to Mitigation Tom M.L. Wigley University of Adelaide, South Australia and National Center for Atmospheric Research, Post Office Box 3000.

Boulder, CO 80307-3000, USA wigley@ucar.edu Climate engineering (or ―geoengineering‖) refers to the intentional modification of the climate system to reduce the magnitude of human-induced change. This paper considers the injection of aerosol precursor material into the stratosphere (solar radiation management, SRM), in the context of climate stabilization. Two scenarios are considered. In one scenario, the climate is stabilized by mitigation (emissions reduction) alone. In a parallel scenario, it is assumed that attempts at mitigation are less successful and that a limited amount of SRM is necessary to follow an acceptable pathway to stabilization. Global-mean temperature, sea- level and precipitation consequences of these pathways are examined. It is shown that, with a combined mitigation-climate engineering strategy, the possible detrimental side effects of SRM are minimal. For precipitation the side effects may even be positive. These results differ significantly from other assessments of the side effects of SRM, which have considered the unlikely scenario where SRM is employed as the sole climate amelioration strategy.

The Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (SRMGI) Harriet Harden-Davies Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering A key finding of the 2009 Royal Society report Geoengineering the climate: science, governance and uncertainty was that geoengineering is not an alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions but that it should be researched transparently, responsibly and internationally as it may be the only option to reduce temperatures quickly in the event of a climate emergency. The report also recommended that the scientific and governance uncertainties should be explored in greater detail. The Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (SRMGI), leading on from the report, seeks to advance the international governance of geoengineering through the development of guidelines to ensure that SRM research is performed in a transparent, responsible and environmentally sound manner. The SRMGI is co-convened by the Royal Society, the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Some key challenges and implications of the governance of SRM research will be considered and the SRMGI project will be outlined.


Royal Society (2009) Geoengineering the climate: science, governance and uncertainty Royal Society (2010) The Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (SRMGI) Advancing the international governance of geoengineering Project Description p1 http://www.srmgi.org/downloads/ Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative http://www.srmgi.org/

Geoengineering: Issues in International Governance Roger Beale AO Climate Commissioner Principal, PricewaterhouseCoopers Geoengineering and Risk Geoengineering technologies are generally described under two broad categories: carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and solar radiation management (SRM). CDR methods remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, for example through ocean fertilisation and carbon sequestration in plants and soils. SRM methods increase reflectivity of the atmosphere or the surface of the Earth. Examples of SRM methods include injection of aerosols into the stratosphere and space-based reflectors.

In general SRM methods are thought to offer potential for (relatively) low cost and large scale deployment and rapid impact but linked with high levels of risk including disruption of major regional rainfall patterns, delay in recovery of the Antarctic ozone layer, failure to address the impact of acidification of oceans,  ̳withdrawal‘ risks if greenhouse emissions grow and SRM interventions are allowed to decay. Some CDR options are thought to have the potential for lower cost than emissions reduction options. However for the land based options, the questionable feasibility of large-scale adoption, rising costs as deployment increases and time lags in removing emissions could reduce the apparent advantages. Methods to increase ocean carbon uptake (ocean fertilization and accelerated upwelling) pose significant risks of undesirable ecological effects such as increases in the size of oxygen-starved regions of the ocean, changes in geographic dispersion of fish stocks and local climate impacts.

For both SRM and the more radical CDR methods risks of unintended environmental consequences would arise not only for implementing countries. Large-scale activities, particularly in open oceans and in the upper atmosphere, would have effects that cross borders. Implementation also involves free rider issues associated with cost sharing (given that the benefits of successful deployment would be global) and coordination issues (independent SRM or radical CDR could run risk of  ̳overdosing‘ or offsetting interventions). This suggests that some level of multilateral or plurilateral governance is required.

Given the risks why is there interest?

Continuing failures in international emissions reduction effort would raise the risk of dangerous climate change with possible sudden and catastrophic consequences. It has been suggested that there is a need to have ready emergency responses if catastrophic climate change becomes imminent. SRM methods are considered to have potential for emergency response because they could be put in place quickly, with relatively rapid cooling effects. The difficulty of multilateral negotiations also raises the attractiveness of geoengineering methods because they could be implemented unilaterally or by a small group of nations without requiring global agreement. A small group of nations might find it easier to agree on geoengineering strategies (subject to costs being acceptable) than emissions reductions.

Relevance of existing treaty structures

The many alternative implementing mechanisms and different risks of CDR and SRM potentially trigger a number of existing treaties. None of the existing treaties were established with a specific purpose of supporting governance of geoengineering. As a consequence, their provisions apply only partial coverage of geoengineering approaches, and where provisions are relevant to geoengineering, in their current form they may not provide for practical guidance or regulation.

The London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and other Matter and the London Protocol are being used to some extent for management of ocean fertilisation. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) could also potentially apply to ocean fertilisation. A recent meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) encouraged governments to allow ocean fertilisation activities only where there is an adequate scientific basis. The CBD could also potentially be applied to some land-based CDR activities, as well as SRM activities. However, experience to date is that the enforcement provisions of the CBD are weak. The Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC has some relevance to the extent that it defines some aspects of bio-sequestration and could be expected to address issues associated with soil carbons.

International treaties with potential application for governance of SRM include in particular: the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (questionable applicability); the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution; and the Vienna Convention and its Montreal Protocol for the Protection of the Ozone Layer.

Antarctica1 and oceans outside territorial waters are recognised as global commons, and the UNCLOS and the Antarctic Treaty provide for international stewardship of these bodies. These principles may provide some basis for governance of CDR and SRM where the impacts occur over very large areas and across borders. However, their existence together with supplementary fisheries treaty structures has not succeeded in halting the continuing over exploitation of fisheries and marine mammals.

Discussions on international governance of geoengineering have to date been negative in tone, with a focus on limiting unintended or negative impacts rather than on the characteristics of a suitable governance framework. The UNFCCC does not provide a relevant umbrella framework at this point, and discussions on future treatment of geoengineering under the Convention have been limited.

In short there is no single overarching treaty relevant to geoengineering and given the spread of risks and coordination requirements it is unlikely that all could be appropriately covered through a single instrument.

Future Governance – desirable characteristics The key objective should be to encourage legitimate `research, but carefully manage risks.

A future governance framework(s) should enable incentives for established CDR activities such as reforestation and currently excluded but relatively low risk options like soil carbon uptake (this could be done through a focus under UNFCCC on measurement, verification, monitoring and review methodologies) and encourage legitimate research into the lesser understood CDR and SRM options, while ensuring that risks are carefully managed. Such a framework should facilitate cooperation between countries and recognise that one instrument is possibly not the most suitable approach given the range of options and risks. It should also reflect the fact that those with the capability to carry out geoengineering and those who face (some of) the risks might be different.

Experience with the UNFCCC and other international treaty processes has demonstrated the tensions between negotiating a  ̳just instrument‘, which enables wide participation by all, and a framework that facilitates agreement and real progress,

Although some nations, including Australia, claim sovereignty over parts of Antarctica there has been agreement to limit exploitation of its resources and to focus on scientific research.

which may comprise a more limited number of parties. An example of the latter is the informal G20 grouping which has emerged in international economic forums in response to the global financial crisis and which showed some benefits in the Copenhagen climate change negotiations in 2009.

A group such as this, with representation across the larger developed and developing economies, could establish a framework for joint programs of research and discussion prioritizing those methods of geoengineering which have a high level potential effectiveness, risk and/or coordination requirement. This smaller group, which would contain all those with the necessary science and deployment capability, should focus on protocols for transparency, peer review and risk assessment and developing a moratorium on even experimental deployment of high risk methods. The aim would be to build confidence from the ground up, rather than aiming to start with a formal treaty process. There should be close contact with the UNFCCC process with the aim of facilitating broader agreement under that process as (and if) elements of geoengineering begin to emerge as practical and safe options.

This group would run in parallel with the existing treaty framework, and the identification and review of the adequacy of relevant domestic legislation in each jurisdiction.


Banerjee, Bidisha. (2011) The Limitations of Geoengineering Governance in a World of Uncertainty. Stanford Journal of Law, Science and Policy Benedick, Richard. Considerations on Governance for Climate Remediation Technologies: Lessons from the ―Ozone Hole‖ Stanford Op Cit Berg, Robert. Can the United Nations be a Better Leader on Climate Change? Stanford Op Cit Bracmort, K., Lattanzio, R.K. and Barbour, E.C. (2010). Geoengineering: governance and technology policy.

Congressional Research Service.

Horton, Joshua. Geoengineering and the Myth of Unilateralism: Pressures and Prospects for International Cooperation. Stanford Op Cit House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (2010). The regulation of geoengineering, House of Commons, London.

Lin, A.C. (2009).  ̳Geoengineering governance‘, Issues in legal scholarship: Vol. 8: Iss. 3 (Balancing the risks: managing technology and dangerous climate change), Article 2. <www.hepress.com/ils/vol8/iss3/art2> Royal Society (2009). Geoengineering the climate: science governance and uncertainty, Royal Society, London.

Geoengineering governance: Some insights from international relations theory and practice John Virgoe British High Commission, Canberra2 Climate change mitigation is a classic collective action problem – how to ensure all actors pull their weight in reducing emissions. By contrast, some geoengineering interventions could be conducted, at scale, by a single state or individual, at relatively low cost. The primary challenge of geoengineering politics, therefore, is to make it harder, not easier, to act: to prevent unilateral attempts at geoengineering without international agreement, and without attention to environmental, legal, political and moral issues.

Existing international agreements may help achieve this for certain technologies. The Convention on Biological Diversity and the London Convention/Protocol have already sought to restrict geoengineering activities in their respective spheres. Similarly, the Montreal Protocol might be used to restrict the use of stratospheric aerosols which affect the ozone layer.

However, these agreements are not adequate to govern the use of geoengineering to achieve climate goals – not least, because they were not designed with climate goals in mind. If geoengineering is to contribute to tackling climate change, it will need to be integrated with the broader climate regime. This could be achieved relatively straightforwardly for carbon dioxide removal, through a carbon price. But there is no straightforward equivalent carbon price for solar radiation management.

Some have argued for a normative, or principle-based, approach to geoengineering governance, building perhaps on the Oxford Principles. Such principles are unlikely to be adopted explicitly by states, but, as they become socialised, they will help set the normative context within which negotiations on a regime take place. A legal approach is also possible, based on relevant principles of international common law.

However, a realist approach suggests that national interests, not abstract principles, will determine how states approach negotiating a governance regime. Interests will reflect, inter alia: how states expect to be affected by climate change; the expected distribution of side- effects; their relative power; and their capacity to implement geoengineering.

A desiccated interests-based analysis, however, fails to account for other factors which influence states‘ behaviour in international negotiations. These may reflect deep cultural, cognitive or political factors. By illustration, consider three preferences revealed in UNFCCC negotiations:

(1) The strong attachment of key developing countries to a universal, UN-led process, and their resistance to negotiations taking place outside the UNFCCC.

(2) The substantial sunk investment by some parties, notably the EU, in the Kyoto mitigation-based approach.

(3) The view of many developing countries that climate change is a moral issue, and that developed countries should bear the costs of tackling it.

2 This paper is presented in a private capacity, and does not represent UK Government policy.

These revealed preferences are likely to affect how states approach geoengineering. Developing a regime, therefore, will be an intensely political process, in which norms, national interests and preferences will play key roles.

It is far too early to consider starting negotiations on geoengineering governance: we do not know enough. But equally it would be a mistake to let the development of geoengineering techniques run ahead of consideration of non-technical aspects, such as the appropriate legal, regulatory and decision-making frameworks – and the politics.


House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (2010). The Regulation of Geoengineering, House of Commons, London.

Lloyd, I.D. and Oppenheimer, M. (2011).  ̳On the design of an international governance framework for geoengineering‘, forthcoming.

Schelling, T.C. (1996).  ̳The economic diplomacy of geoengineering‘, Climatic Change, no. 33.

Victor, D.G. (2008).  ̳On the regulation of geoengineering‘, Oxford Review of Economic Policy, vol.24, no.2, pp. 322-336.

Virgoe, J. (2009).  ̳International governance of a possible geoengineering intervention to combat climate change‘, Climatic Change, no.95, pp. 103-119.

The Ethics of Geoengineering – Clive Hamilton

Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics Charles Sturt University The question of what to do about climate change is fundamentally a moral one. Who is responsible for the problem? Who will be most harmed by climate change? What are our obligations to future generations? Who is obliged to fix the problem? The essential starting point for any consideration of the ethics of geoengineering is moral failure—the inability of the world community to respond to the scientific warnings about the dangers of global warming.

Three justifications are used to defend research into geoengineering and possible deployment—it will allow us to buy time, it will allow us to respond to a climate emergency and it may be the best option economically.

The buying-time argument is based on an understanding that the failure to cut global emissions arises from political paralysis or the power of vested interests. The log-jam can only be broken by the development of a substantially cheaper alternative to fossil energy because countries will then adopt the new technologies for self-interested reasons. Geoengineering is therefore a necessary evil deployed to head off a greater evil, the damage due to unchecked global warming.

The climate emergency argument, reflecting a growing concern about climate tipping points, also sees geoengineering as a necessary evil. It imagines rapid deployment of solar radiation management in response to some actual or imminent sharp change in world climate that cannot be averted even by the most determined mitigation effort.

The best-option argument (favoured by economists) rejects the understanding of geoengineering as an inferior Plan B. What do to about global warming should rest on a comprehensive assessment of the consequences of each approach, including geoengineering. The ―ethical‖ decision is the one that maximises the ratio of benefits to costs. Those who adopt this argument are inclined to see geoengineering as a substitute for mitigation rather than as a complement.

Moral corruption

We deploy psychological strategies to deny or, more commonly, to evade the facts of climate science, and thereby to blind ourselves to our moral responsibilities or reduce the pressure to act on them. Strategies include wishful thinking, blame-shifting and selective disengagement. Gardiner argues that this kind of situation gives rise to moral corruption, ―the subversion of our moral discourse to our own ends‖. Geoengineering itself may be a form of moral corruption. If Plan B is inferior to Plan A (in the sense of being less effective and more risky) then by choosing B instead of A, for whatever reason, we succumb to moral failure. That is unless we are constrained in our actions and pursuing A is beyond our power. This presents a moral dilemma for geoengineering researchers and environmental groups: if they believe that Plan B is inferior to Plan A then supporting geoengineering can be justified only if they believe they can no longer effectively advance Plan A. The dilemma deepens if it proves that supporting Plan B actually makes Plan A less likely.

Moral hazard

It is widely accepted that having more information is uniformly a good thing as it allows better decisions to be made. Research into geoengineering is strongly defended on these grounds. Yet for many years research into geoengineering, and even public discussion of it, was frowned on by almost all climate scientists. ―Moral hazard‖ is a term developed by economists to capture the impact on incentives of being protected against losses. The availability of a policy substitute that can be made to appear attractive may make it easier for a government to act against the national and global interest.

We know that those whose financial interests would be damaged by abatement policies have been using their power in the political system to slow or prevent action. Any realistic assessment must conclude that geoengineering research is virtually certain to reduce incentives to pursue mitigation. This is apparent now, before any substantial research programs have begun. For example, representatives of the fossil fuel industry have begun to talk of geoengineering as a substitute for carbon abatement and some economists are arguing that the prospect of solar radiation management renders mitigation unnecessary.

Research often generates its own momentum for further research and testing, by creating a constituency of scientists, investors and government agencies whose interests appear to lie in further research and deployment. So there is a concern that the knowledge generated by geoengineering research will be misused in foreseeable ways.

The moral hazard argument is framed in consequentialist terms, which is intrinsically predisposed to elevate the power of humanity over that of nature. Central to its position is the rejection of the idea that the natural exercises any sort of ethical pull. Against this, it may be maintained that intentionally manipulating the climate is intrinsically wrong.

A non-consequentialist argument will be outlined, drawing on recent developments in Earth system science that undermine the ideas that the Earth consists of a collection of resources available for human consumption, that the only constraint on our dealings with the Earth is imposed by enlightened self-interest, and that there is nothing special about global warming and geoengineering that would prevent the standard ethical framework being applied. It will be suggested that the arrival of the Anthropocene calls for a wholesale reconsideration.


Stephen Gardiner (2010) Is  ̳Arming the Future‘ with Geoengineering Really the Lesser Evil?, in Stephen Gardiner et al. (eds), Climate Ethics: Essential Readings, Oxford University Press, New York.

Stephen Gardiner, (2010) Ethics and Global Climate Change, in Stephen Gardiner et al. (eds), Climate Ethics: Essential Readings, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2010 Clive Hamilton, (forthcoming) The Ethical Foundations of Climate Engineering, in Wil Burns and Andrew Strauss (eds), Climate Change Geoengineering: Legal, Political and Philosophical Perspectives, Cambridge University Press, http://www.clivehamilton.net.au/cms/media/ethical_foundations_of_climate_engineering.pdf

The Ethics of Geoengineering – Jeremy Baskin

Programme for Sustainability Leadership University of Cambridge The growing interest in geoengineering (GE) suggests that, when thinking about climate policy, we need to explicitly add the category Intervention, to the traditional duo of Mitigation and Adaptation.

General Concerns

Four broad concerns can be highlighted which impact on any analysis of the ethical issues associated with GE. These are:

Political‐ economy concerns – does GE encourage us to avoid coming to terms with the implications for economic growth models, fossil‐ fuel based energy systems, consumption patterns, human wellbeing and global inequality which any serious examination of the climate problem reveals? The  ̳moral hazard‘ argument doesn‘t adequately capture this and is itself open to contestation.1 Practical concerns – whether we are capable, even after more research, of sufficient understanding of the climate system for us to be confident about the likely consequences of potential interventions, or whether its pursuit is hubristic? Fleming‘s devastating account of the history of weather control2 should make us more than cautious about climate control, however much we may face a  ̳climate emergency‘. It is not persuasive that  ̳this is why we need more research‘ is an ethically adequate answer.

Definitional concerns – are we right to discuss GE as a single entity? Broadly speaking, are the ethical issues raised by CDR of the same order as those raised by SRM? Can one be open, for example, to research into and trial deployment of biochar, whilst remaining ethically uncomfortable with even desk research into SRM? Or are such distinctions between  ̳good‘ and  ̳bad‘ GE no longer compelling since, as Victor argues3, all GE will, when deployed, be  ̳cocktail GE‘ with different techniques being used in combination? Research vs Deployment concerns – there is a tendency, when thinking about the ethics of GE, to differentiate between research and deployment with the toughest ethical issues being associated with the latter. Research and the pursuit of knowledge is generally seen as unproblematic. But, as Asilomar‘s Principle 4 implicitly recognises, without testing and evaluation, research is likely to be less useful and its deployment and consequences more dangerous and uncertain. It is also naïve to imagine that research will remain on the shelf. In short, the ethical issues are present from the research commencement phase.

Deciding against taboo

It is striking the extent to which earth system scientists are uncomfortable about GE, and how many recognise that even research into GE has substantial ethical implications. Some refuse to go there, and share the popular instinct that GE research somehow breaches an unwritten taboo. But increasing numbers seem persuaded by what Gardiner calls the  ̳arm the future‘, or climate emergency, argument4. It is indeed a compelling argument, especially the idea that at least the possibilities should be researched.5 In trying to deal with the ethical (and personal) discomfort felt by many scientists and the similarities with the Manhattan Project, there has been a tendency to move to discussions of governance and also to adopt research guidelines. However, the turn to governance and to research guidelines have effectively shifted the debate from why and whether to how – in itself an ethical decision.


This is not to say that guidelines are unimportant. But it is important to understand what they foreclose. For example, some questions which emerge from looking at the Asilomar Principles include:

Principle 1 – ―promoting the collective benefit of humankind and the environment‖ – begs the question of what occurs when the benefits are contested, or when the environmental and human benefits are at odds. The goal of getting back to a pre human‐ induced climate is also worthy of debate.

Principle 2 – ―governments must clarify responsibilities for … governance and oversight … [building on] existing structures and norms for governing scientific research…‖. All governments? Only major governments? By consensus?

Principle 3 – ―open and cooperative research‖, including risk assessment if deployment is considered. What should happen to scientists who do not work in this fashion? Should scientists blow the whistle on colleagues they know to be working in a different way? Principle 5 – ―public involvement and consent… [including] consideration of the international and intergenerational implications…‖ The governance point again. Do the principles as a whole imply there should be no research, development and deployment of GE until rules, structures and guidelines are effectively in place? Apart from the ethical issues for institutions and scientists as a group, there are ethical issues with which each individual must grapple. What am I prepared to do and not do? What are the limits I set myself? What, if anything, is taboo?


Finally, Hamilton places emphasis on the idea of the anthropocene as able to illuminate a way forward. The groundbreaking work on the anthropocene does force rethinking of traditional concepts of the earth and what it means to be human. But it could also be interpreted as justifying a switch from the traditional notion of having a  ̳right‘ to control the earth (constrained only by enlightened selfinterest), to having a  ̳duty‘ to do so. In this version, if we are now god, then we need to defend our creation. Intriguingly, Paul Crutzen is a leading thinker of both the anthropocene and (uncomfortably) of the need for investigation of GE.

The anthropocene supports what Bird has argued elsewhere, that one can argue ―against environmentally destructive technologies, but not on the grounds that they are anti‐ natural‖6. It can be compatible with Hamilton‘s central argument that with GE we are dealing with an instance of moral failure, but this is perhaps more usefully explored through the notion of taboo.


1. See, for example, Gregor Betz (forthcoming)  ̳The case for climate engineering research‘, Climatic Change; or Adam Millard‐ Ball who uses game theory to suggest suggests competitive GE may even enhance mitigation, in  ̳The Tuvalu Syndrome‘, (forthcoming) Climatic Change.

2. J. R. Fleming (2010). Fixing the Sky. Columbia University Press. New York.

3. David G. Victor (2011). Global Warming Gridlock: creating more effective strategies for protecting the planet. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK.

4. Stephen Gardiner (2010) ―Is  ̳Arming the Future‘ with Geoengineering Really the Lesser Evil?‖, in Stephen Gardiner et al. (eds), Climate Ethics: Essential Readings, Oxford University Press, New York.

5. Royal Society (2009). ―Geoengineering the climate: science, governance and uncertainty‖.

6. Elizabeth Ann R. Bird (1987)  ̳The Social Construction of Nature: Theoretical approaches to the study of environmental problems‘, Environmental Review 11 pp255‐ 264.

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