Geoengineering Research Governance Project (GRGP) Oxford Workshop on a Code of Conduct for Responsible Geoengineering Research – Anna-Maria Hubert


Monday, Jul. 03, 2017

In this blog post, I will discuss recent developments in our Geoengineering Research Governance Project (GRGP), by providing an update on our GRGP Code of Conduct Workshop held at the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford on 21-23 June 2017. I will describe the objectives and format of the workshop, reflect on some of the insights gained from this meeting, and then outline next steps for the project.

Overview of the GRGP
The draft Code of Conduct for Responsible Geoengineering Research together with its commentaries was created to advance a more comprehensive understanding of the role of international law in shaping regulatory and governance arrangements for geoengineering research and innovation. In May 2015, David Reichwein and I published this research in preliminary form as a working paper through the Institute for Science Innovation and Society (InSIS), University of Oxford and the Institute of Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS-Potsdam).

In January 2016, we launched the GRGP – a collaboration led by the University of Calgary, with the University of Oxford and IASS-Potsdam. The aims of this phase of the project include:

• to further examine the regulation and governance of research and innovation on geoengineering and its progressive development, drawing upon the insights of different disciplinary perspectives
• to apply our further research to improving the text of the draft Code of Conduct with the aim of informing the design of appropriate regulatory and governance frameworks for research and innovation on geoengineering
• to disseminate and use this research to engage with researchers, policy experts, commercial entities, and civil society representatives to understand the regulatory and governance options, and to integrate this feedback by revising the previous version of the draft Code of Conduct

The GRGP includes several elements that are broadly aimed at stakeholder engagement on the topic of geoengineering research governance (see A key aspect of this engagement process was the recently concluded GRGP Oxford Code of Conduct Workshop from 21st – 23rd June 2017.

Objectives and Format of the GRGP Oxford Code of Conduct Workshop
The purpose of the workshop was broadly to clarify and promote a deeper understanding of issues related to the regulation and governance of geoengineering science and innovation through cross-disciplinary exchange. As such, we were 42 experts from around the globe, including academics from different disciplines, international and national policy experts, and members of civil society. Overall, the goal was to evaluate the adequacy of existing regimes and doctrines relevant to geoengineering research and innovation, and to explore options for new regulatory and governance approaches in this space.

Specifically, the format of the workshop examined the potential role of a draft Code of Conduct for Responsible Geoengineering Research by interpreting and applying its provisions to three separate hypothetical (though plausible) geoengineering field experiments. These considered the following proposed geoengineering techniques:

• Stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI)
• Accelerated weathering of limestone (AWL)
• Marine cloud brightening (MCB)

Analysis of issues related to jurisdiction and the interpretation and application of international or domestic regulations to research activities is highly fact-sensitive. Relevant circumstances include the nature of the geoengineering intervention, location, duration and scale of the experiment, environmental risks and uncertainties, and other potential consequences (e.g., on other established activities in the area). Hence, each hypothetical experimental scenario included details about the nature and purpose of the field experiment, the project proponents, the environmental risks and uncertainties, the possible progression of the research program, and a brief (though not exhaustive) description of existing regulatory and governance frameworks relevant to the circumstances. Our aim was that by working through these different scenarios, we would gain a richer and more nuanced understanding of the specific issues and interests at stake.

We established interdisciplinary working groups to grapple with each scenario. For each case, groups sought to reconcile legal issues raised by current conceptions of geoengineering research and innovation with existing legal orders and doctrines, drawing upon a range of disciplinary perspectives. This exercise was ultimately about imagining specific interactions between existing law, science and society, and exploring their constitutive roles in the development of new regulatory and governance arrangements for geoengineering.

Before gathering in interdisciplinary working groups to discuss each scenario, workshop participants were briefed by experts on some of the scientific, technical and legal considerations relevant to the hypothetical experimental scenario. Working groups then discussed each scenario using the following questions as a guide:

1. What scientific, technical, legal, social, political and ethical considerations arise in the circumstances?
2. Are there any legal gaps or uncertainties that arise with regard to the interpretation and application of existing international and domestic law? Is relevant information missing from the scenario that would turn your analysis?
3. In your view, does existing international and domestic law provide an adequate level of control and oversight in light of the risks and uncertainties? If not, what would be sufficient in the circumstances?
4. Does the draft Code of Conduct for Responsible Geoengineering Research apply to this experimental scenario?
5. Which of the draft Code of Conduct’s draft articles are most relevant and how might they be interpreted and applied in the circumstances?
6. Are there any gaps or legal uncertainties that arise with regard to the interpretation and application of the draft Code of Conduct?
7. What role does a non-binding instrument play within context of the existing legal framework?
8. Does the draft Code of Conduct provide a reasonable level of control and oversight in light of the risks and uncertainties? If not, what changes are necessary?

Each working group session was then followed by a plenary discussion. On the final day of the workshop, we gathered as a large group to share results from the working groups, discuss overarching themes and discuss next steps for the GRGP project.

Critical Reflections on the GRGP Oxford Code of Conduct workshop

The status quo is insufficient
Interestingly, no one at the workshop was seriously arguing that existing regulatory and governance arrangements are sufficient. In this regard, Professor Catherine Redgwell’s presentation highlighted the results of their comprehensive study of legal and institutional frameworks relevant to geoengineering (see Climate Geoengineering Governance Project: She underscored that there are significant gaps in international and national law relevant to geoengineering research and innovation. This point was further emphasized by Tracy Hester, Chris Vivian, and Neil Craik in their legal analysis of the individual experimental scenarios.

It’s as much about the process as it is about the outcome
As the principal investigator of the GRGP, I originally envisaged that the stakeholder engagement aspects of the project were necessary to produce a policy-salient publication on the regulation and governance of geoengineering research and innovation. This included, for example, getting additional feedback on sticky issues related to the scope of governance: e.g., the tension between the need to prescribe in sufficiently precise terms what kinds of research activities would be covered to provide clear guidance, while also not being too narrow given that it is difficult to envisage all scenarios and that this field is likely to change in the future.

Of course, the focus on written outputs remains important so that others who are not directly involved in the conversation may have access to the outputs of the project. Above all, however, this workshop highlighted the importance of good process in developing robust governance frameworks for R&D on geoengineering. If we are to collectively produce a balanced governance framework for research and innovation in this field, it is necessary to create a process that encourages constructive conversations about the most challenging aspects of getting governance right. This is time-consuming and involves engaging with different stakeholder communities and fostering a more concrete discussion about the more contentious and challenging aspects of geoengineering research governance. But having these discussions is important to building capacity for decision-making and to enhancing buy-in from those undertaking research in this field.

This conversation needs to be expanded.
At this particular meeting, we did not succeed in having adequate global representation. In particular, engagement with stakeholders from developing countries should be stronger in future meetings. Consequently, we did not adequately cover equitable dimensions of geoengineering research governance at our workshop. Further concerted discussions are necessary, e.g., on role of research governance to ensure that research programs do not just address particular interests and lines of enquiry, and that governance supports capacity-building in science (e.g., information-sharing and joint participation in research projects) and enables informed decision-making on governance questions by less-developed countries (see

The GRGP is committed to carrying on this conversation in the upcoming months, and reflecting in good faith the different perspectives on these issues in the final results of our study on the development of regulatory and governance arrangements for geoengineering research and innovation.

Governance of geoengineering research and innovation serves different functions
Our discussions underscored that it is important to understand and account for the different functions of research governance in order to develop balanced regulatory and governance frameworks that are fit for purpose. At our meeting, at least three key functions were identified (see further Dan Bodansky, “The who, what, and wherefore of geoengineering governance” (2013) 121 Climatic Change 539):

1. Risk prevention and minimization

The literature identifies the prevention and minimization of the risk of harm caused by geoengineering research as a key function of governance. Geoengineering research gives rise to two broad categories of concerns. The first is that perturbative field research may cause direct and immediate physical harm to the environment or to human health and safety. The second relates to the wider societal implications of the knowledge gained from the conduct of geoengineering research.

With regard to the first concern, although most countries have ethical guidelines for research involving human and animal subjects, the establishment of standards for conducting field research in the ambient environment is a relatively new concern that has only now receiving policy attention, particularly in the law of the sea. Scholars and policymakers have raised these questions in relation to the effects of scientific sampling and observation on individual organisms, species, and habitats, as well as the experimental manipulation ecosystems or release of modified organisms. In response, we have seen a proliferation of private and public codes of conduct for ecological research. The draft Code of Conduct for Responsible Geoengineering Research follows in this vein, and draws upon the principles laid down in these instruments.

With regard to the second concern, a clear consensus that emerged at our workshop was that the risk dimensions of the geoengineering governance problem are not limited to the physical risks of conducting perturbative field experiments, and include the socio-political and ethical concerns associated with geoengineering research and innovation. Indeed, the latter may prevail even if the potential impact on the environment and human health and safety from an experiment is negligible. Against this backdrop, it seems relatively obvious to me that a formalized Code of Conduct for Responsible Geoengineering Research would only be one element in wider science-policy and governance landscape to address these socio-political concerns.

2. Facilitation and promotion of responsible research and innovation

In his plenary address at the workshop, Professor Steve Rayner, one of the original authors of the landmark 2009 Royal Society Report on Geoengineering, recalled that he originally thought that the key issue in governing this field would be about controlling risks. In 2009, one of his major concerns was that there was a need for adequate governance to prevent the “Greenfinger” scenario in which a private actor undertakes geoengineering on his or her own. The Haida Gwaii ocean fertilization incident demonstrated that such scenarios do happen, hence they must be contemplated as a dimension of governance in this area. However, Professor Rayner pointed out that what he and his co-authors did not foresee at the time was that the greater issue related to geoengineering governance is that research would be under-provided. Several workshop participants echoed their concerns that geoengineering as a field is stagnating, and that more needs to be done to facilitate and promote geoengineering research and innovation, including at a programmatic level. 

Indeed, decision-makers in the national and international arenas have to date shown little appetite to promote or fund geoengineering research, either for greenhouse gas removal (GGR) or solar radiation management (SRM). Further public debate and deliberation on these issues are clearly necessary, since at the moment the public demand for this research appears low to non-existent. However, there are signals that more natural-science research will be undertaken in 2018 and beyond. In the case of GGR, we have started to see a shift, e.g., with a major programme funded by the UK National Environment Research Council (NERC) that “will undertake research to improve our knowledge of the options for removing carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere at a climatically-relevant scale, giving interdisciplinary attention to the environmental, technical, economic, governance and wider societal aspects of such approaches on a national level and in an international context” (

With regard to SRM, the lack of public funding has meant that some geoengineering experimentalists are pursuing private financing to conduct field research on solar radiation management.

Further reflection and amendments are needed to the draft Code of Conduct to reflect current realities of the under-provision of research and innovation while also maintaining adequate risk assessment and management (see discussion below). This is an area in which the draft Code of Conduct for Responsible Geoengineering Research — which was originally drafted in 2012 — might be showing its age. More recent developments indicate a shift in focus and provide a policy foundation for reorienting the balance in the draft Code of Conduct. Perhaps the most notable of these at the international level is the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Decision XIII/14 para 6 which notes “that more transdisciplinary research and sharing of knowledge among appropriate institutions is needed in order to better understand the impacts of climate-related geoengineering on biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, socio-economic, cultural and ethical issues and regulatory options.”

3. Ensuring the legitimacy of geoengineering research and innovation

Legitimacy is a third consideration relevant to the establishment of effective governance for geoengineering and innovation. Legitimacy in the context of research governance comprises both internal and external aspects. Internal legitimacy refers to extent to which governance produces legitimacy within the social system of scientific knowledge production. Norms in the draft Code of Conduct that speak to this element include provisions which require assessment of whether the proposed experiment exhibits “proper scientific attributes” such satisfying peer review processes, as well as provisions on the timely publication of research plans, results and data. These requirements promote knowledge-sharing and innovation, allow for criticism by members of the scientific community, and facilitate the quality and advancement of science generally. External legitimacy extends beyond the inner processes of the scientific community to open up discussion of geoengineering research to public criticism and debate about certain kinds of research. Provisions aimed at enhancing climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information are all essential to ensuring the external legitimacy of research and innovation on geoengineering. We will be reviewing the comments on these different provisions in the draft Code of Conduct to evaluate whether the current framework proposed is adequate.

It’s about getting the balance right between the different functions of geoengineering research governance

Overall, it is clear that a tension exists between restrictions on research to prevent harms and the need to facilitate and promote geoengineering research to understand its value as a potential measure for addressing climate change. Professor Dan Bodansky, in his 2013 article in Climatic Change on “The who, what and wherefore of geoengineering governance”, highlights this point:

Geoengineering governance could have several potential goals. If we are concerned to keep the geoengineering option open, international governance might aim to facilitate or even promote geoengineering research, so that we have a better understanding of the feasibility, costs, and benefits of different geoengineering techniques. In contrast, if we are concerned about the potential risks of geoengineering, then geoengineering governance might aim to impose limits on geoengineering or to collectivize the decision-making process, in order to prevent actors from making decisions that might have serious, even catastrophic, consequence for others. Governance is needed, in the first case, to ensure sufficient geoengineering and, in the second, to avoid too much.

As a legal matter, it is important to bear in mind that research restrictions may potentially interfere with legal (even constitutional) guarantees for the freedom of scientific research, which may be covered, e.g., by the protection of expression and speech. Generally speaking, though this is a gross oversimplification, restrictions on the freedom of scientific research may be more of a legal concern where there are no significant, physical impacts from field and laboratory experiments. An advantage of a voluntary governance scheme is that emphasis is placed on scientific institutions and researchers themselves to take responsibility for responsible research in carrying out research in this area. A non-binding instrument like a code of conduct, while not legally coercive, can contribute to the norm-building process and provide clear guidance on the adoption and implementation of best practices to be undertaken by the scientific community itself.

There are also practical considerations to take into account to achieve the appropriate level of oversight and control of geoengineering research. For example, a few workshop participants raised the issue that “extra governance” for geoengineering research would potentially create excessively onerous administrative requirements that would hinder the ability of scientists to move forward with research. However, counter-arguments were also leveled. One scientist who researches geoengineering quickly responded that “if you are not willing to take governance seriously, you are working in the wrong field,” a view that was seconded by other research scientists in the room.

It is clear that further reflection is necessary in the aftermath of the workshop to assess whether the draft Code of Conduct strikes a reasonable balance between facilitating research while also managing the associated risks. The text already devotes some attention to these issues, e.g., through the adoption of a two-tiered environmental assessment procedure depending on the potential physical risks of an activity. Ultimately, there is a subjective, value-based aspect to any risk analysis exercise. The observations made by one workshop participant in the final plenary session are heartening: those in their working group who saw a greater need to promote research found the draft Code too restrictive, whereas those in their group who were against geoengineering found the instrument to be too permissive. My view is that geoengineering research governance, though by definition restrictive to scientific activities in one sense, is not at odds with the ultimate goal of research to understand the potential feasibility, benefits and risks of geoengineering. Governance can define safe and appropriate bounds for research and field experimentation and thereby facilitate geoengineering research and innovation and increase scientific credibility and public confidence in this field.

Next Steps for the GRGP
Overall, our research team found the Oxford Code of Conduct Workshop to be an extremely useful tool to fulfilling the goals of our project. We are grateful to all of the participants for their insights and contributions as well as their willingness to engage in the process. We have received positive feedback from participants who indicated that they also found the meeting useful to their own work in this area. Ultimately, our intention is to continue to open-up and foster this conversation between academics, scientists, policy experts, decision-makers, and members of civil society and to build capacity amongst a growing community of interested stakeholders who will be called up to contribute to major decisions on geoengineering governance in the near future.

In upcoming months our research team will be reviewing the data from this meeting and integrating participants’ feedback to produce a next iteration of the draft Code of Conduct for Responsible Geoengineering Research. Revisions will include a basic restructuring and redrafting of the text of the Code based on comments from expert peer reviewers, who included legal and political science scholars and policy experts working at the international level.

We intend to present this new draft at a special panel at the Climate Engineering Conference 2017 in Berlin, Germany from 9-12 October. We welcome additional comments; please feel free to contact us should you like to learn more about the GRGP, its process and outcomes.

Finally, we would like to extend our thanks to everyone who worked to make the Oxford Code of Conduct Workshop a success, including our institutional sponsors: the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative (C2G2), the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, University of Oxford, and the Faculty of Law, University of Calgary, Canada. We also very gratefully acknowledge the generous financial support of the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation, without which this work would not have been possible.

We also note the excellent contributions from our speakers:

Prof Neil Craik – Professor of Law, School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, University of Waterloo
Dr John Dykema – Anderson/Keutsch/Keith Research Group Chemistry and Physics of Climate and Earth System, Harvard University
Prof Tracy Hester – University of Houston Law Centre Faculty, University of Houston
Janos Pasztor – Carnegie Council Senior Fellow and Executive Director, Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative (C2G2); Former UN Assistant Secretary-General for Climate Change under Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Prof Steve Rayner – James Martin Professor of Science and Civilization; Director, Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS); Co-Director, Oxford Martin Geoengineering Programme, University of Oxford
Prof Catherine Redgwell – Chichele Professor of Public International Law, Faculty of Law; Co-Director, Oxford Martin Geoengineering Programme, University of Oxford
Dr Phil Renforth – Lecturer, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University
Rick Russotto – Doctoral Candidate, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington
Dr Chris Vivian – formerly at CEFAS and Co-Chair of GESAMP Working Group on Marine Geoengineering

Thank you to Jane Flegal, Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, UC Berkeley for her excellent moderation of the plenary discussions and to Miranda Böttcher, Research Associate, Institute of Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) for her pivotal role in organising data collection at the workshop, and to our meeting rapporteurs: Stephen Armstrong, JD Candidate, Faculty of Law, University of Calgary; Kristin Barham, JD, Faculty of Law, University of Calgary; Sarah Jayne Gore, Doctoral Candidate, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University; and Kayla Ueland, JD Candidate, Faculty of Law, University of Calgary.

We also are extremely grateful to the members of our GRGP Advisory Board who have provided excellent support and guidance throughout this project: Prof Neil Craik, University of Waterloo; Prof Thomas Hale, University of Oxford; Prof Steve Larter, University of Calgary; Prof Steve Rayner, University of Oxford; Prof Catherine Redgwell, University of Oxford; Dr Stefan Schaefer, IASS-Potsdam; and, Dr Chris Vivian, formerly at CEFAS.

Finally, thank you to all who have provided comments and feedback on the text of the draft Code of Conduct and to those who have participated in the interview process led by Miranda Böttcher, IASS-Potsdam.

Anna-Maria Hubert is an Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary, Faculty of Law, and an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS) at the University of Oxford. In addition, she is currently completing her doctorate at the University of Bremen, where she was a Research Associate jointly in the Faculty of Law and the MARUM Centre for Marine Environmental Sciences from 2010 to 2013. Anna-Maria’s research interests lie in the field of public international law, focusing on the law of the sea, international environmental law, and international law and policy relating to science and emerging technologies.