Academic Working Group on International Governance of Climate Engineering

The Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment’s Academic Working Group (AWG) on International Governance of Climate Engineering is an international group of senior academics that have been assembled to formulate perspectives on the international governance of climate engineering research and potential deployment, with a focus on proposed solar radiation management/albedo modification technologies.

Why are we launching this project now?

A small but respected group of scientists has been calling for consideration of Solar Radiation Management as a further piece of the climate change response puzzle, in addition to limiting greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing greenhouse gas sinks, and the taking of adaptive steps.Solar Radiation Management (SRM) or “albedo modification” is a class of technologies that could lower global average temperatures and offset some of the worst impacts of climate change by reflecting a portion of incoming solar radiation back into space before that radiation could be trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Proposals include artificially brightening clouds, increasing the reflectivity of surface-level planetary features, or depositing reflective particles in the earth’s upper atmosphere. Such ideas are in the early stages of development. They are also contentious, given a wide array of risks that accompany the potential benefits.

Despite this, interest in research and potential development is growing, given the feckless response on climate change of the global community to date and the growing recognition that the world may pass critical climatic thresholds in the course of the next few decades.

Scientists arguing for consideration and research of SRM say these potential tools represent the only known option that can quickly suppress temperatures, to buy time for other forms of response to take hold.

It is our observation that now is the moment for the addition of new voices, insights, and perspectives. As governments in North America, Europe and Asia consider whether or not to support an active climate engineering research agenda, the world stands at an important moment in the broader climate engineering conversation.

The discussion about SRM is advancing, such that there is little to be gained by willfully ignoring it.

With this in mind, we are beginning this new project to assess the wide array of governance challenges presented by consideration of SRM technologies.

What is the Solar Radiation Management Governance Puzzle?

The governance of solar radiation management (SRM) research and / or deployment poses both fascinating and thorny issues. SRM options raise a large number of challenges, driven by the fact that SRM is:

  • An enterprise that would have truly global risks and benefits;
  • Replete with distributional issues;
  • Potentially a powerful enough technology that its development or use could trigger or exacerbate conflict;
  • An uneasy fit with existing international regimes; and
  • Highly politically charged, while also being largely an academic notion to this point

The Academic Working Group on International Governance of Climate Engineering

The project will be based around the sustained deliberations of a newly constituted academic working group. The group has been tasked with:

  1. Assessing the existing SRM governance conversation;
  2. Identifying key debates and open questions;
  3. Providing a fresh, authoritative analysis of governance pathways; and
  4. Producing crisp, policy-relevant recommendations.

This is hardly the first process to look at the SRM governance puzzle. We are beginning this work by bringing our working group into conversation with some of the chief architects of prior SRM governance-focused processes, along with some of the leading academics working on climate engineering science, ethics, policy, and law.

The members of this group can be found here.

All of the group’s work outputs will be posted to this website, to spark further reflection and discussion.

First Meeting

The first meeting of this working group is took place March 6-9, 2016, at the School of International Service, American University in Washington, DC.

The agenda for the first day of that meeting can be found here.

Video of the proceedings can be found here.

Subsequent meetings will take place in New York, New York in September, 2016, and Berkeley California, in February, 2017.

For more information, write to info@ceassessment.org.