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The Need for Governance of Climate Geoengineering

  • Janos Pasztor

Keeping global temperature rise to within 1.5–2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels is looking increasingly unlikely through mitigation alone. While increased adaptation to inevitable climate impacts will be necessary, a new realism is creeping into the climate debate. A growing number of scientists are proposing geoengineering technologies to deal with the expected shortfall, both through carbon dioxide removal and possibly through solar radiation management. But both approaches bring risks and pose significant governance challenges, and would likely affect different communities in different ways. As geoengineering moves mainstream, it is time to put governance at the heart of future discussion, and to broaden the debate from academia to governments, treaty bodies, faith groups, and civic organizations.

The Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative is a major new effort to catalyze this conversation, bringing together players from a wide range of social, geographical, and professional backgrounds. It argues that policymakers need to take an ethical risk management approach, informed by continued research. How should transborder and transgenerational ethical issues be addressed? How will governance frameworks withstand geopolitical change? Can we build on existing international treaties and institutions, or do we need new ones? And most immediately, how should further research on solar engineering be governed—given current plans to start experiments in the stratosphere? In a geoengineered world, who controls the “global thermostat”?

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1 Work has already begun on an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celcius above preindustrial levels, due for publication in 2018.

2 The home of this project is the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. Founded in 1914 by Andrew Carnegie, the Council is an independent nonpartisan institution that works to foster global conversations on ethical issues in the international arena. Ethics & International Affairs, the journal in which this essay appears, is the Council's flagship publication.

3 For one example of the discussion of ethical concerns surrounding the implementation of solar radiation management, see Preston, Christopher J., “Carbon Emissions, Stratospheric Aerosol Injection, and Unintended Harms,” Ethics & International Affairs 31, no. 4 (2017), pp. 479493 ; Lawford-Smith, Holly, “The Comparative Culpability of SAI and Ordinary Carbon Emissions,” Ethics & International Affairs 31, no. 4 (2017), pp. 495499 ; Jinnah, Sikina and Bushey, Douglas, “Bringing Politics into SAI,” Ethics & International Affairs 31, no. 4 (2017), pp. 501506 ; and Hulme, Mike, “Calculating the Incalculable: Is SAI the Lesser of Two Evils?Ethics & International Affairs 31, no. 4 (2017), pp. 507512 .

4 David W. Keith and Gernot Wagner, “Fear of Solar Geoengineering is Healthy—But Don't Distort Our Research,” Guardian, March 29, 2017,

5 ETC Group, “Climate Change, Smoke and Mirrors,” May 2017, As noted on their website, the ETC Group “works to address the socioeconomic and ecological issues surrounding new technologies that could have an impact on the world's poorest and most vulnerable people.”

6 Ariel Schwartz, “‘You Terrify Me’: TED Speakers Duke It Out over a Plan to Release Massive Amounts of Chalk into the Atmosphere,” Business Insider, April 26, 2017,

7 Oliver Geden, “Policy: Climate Advisers Must Maintain Integrity,” Nature, May 6, 2015,

8 See Carbon Brief, “In-Depth: Experts Assess the Feasibility of ‘Negative Emissions,’”April 12, 2016,

9 Villum Kann Rasmussen was a Danish entrepreneur who created the Velux roof window. VKRF was created in 1991 to strengthen environmental research. According to its website it has funded a number of climate engineering governance projects “since there currently is no systematic, coherent set of international legal governance frameworks in place.” Further, “we need to know more about climate engineering, if only to discover what is and is not possible, and we need to be careful that investigation in this space is not driven solely by the interests of individual investors, scientists, or non-transparent governments.” See

10 David Morrow, “International Governance of Climate Engineering, A Survey of Reports on Climate Engineering, 2009–2015,” Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment Working Paper Series, June 2017,

11 Crutzen, Paul J, “Albedo Enhancement by Stratospheric Sulfur Injections: A Contribution to Resolve a Policy Dilemma?Climatic Change 77 (2006), pp. 211–19.

12 Decision X/33, “Biodiversity and Climate Change,” adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity at its Tenth Meeting, Nagoya, Japan, October 29, 2010 (UNEP/CBD/COP/DEC/X/33).

13 In April 2013, Australia, Nigeria, and the Republic of Korea submitted a proposal to amend the London Protocol to regulate placement of matter for ocean fertilization and other marine geoengineering activities. International Maritime Organization, “Ocean Fertilization under the LC/LP,” 2017,

14 See Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, “A Briefing and Discussion on Solar Geoengineering: Science, Ethics, and Governance,” May 16, 2017,

15 McKibben, Bill, The End of Nature (New York: Random House, 1989); Morton, Timothy, Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007).

16 Hamilton, Clive, Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 2017).

17 Ibid., p. viii.

18 See the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs website, “C2G2 Advisory Group,”

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Ethics & International Affairs
  • ISSN: 0892-6794
  • EISSN: 1747-7093
  • URL: /core/journals/ethics-and-international-affairs
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