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date: 24 April 2017

Governance for Climate Engineering

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Climate engineering, a set of techniques proposed to directly intervene in the climate system to reduce risks from climate change, presents many novel governance challenges. Solar radiation management (SRM), particularly stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI), is one of the most discussed proposals. It has been gaining interest, and its pertinence as a potential option for responding to the threats from climate change may be set to increase because of the long-term temperature goal (well below 2 ˚C or 1.5 ˚C) inscribed in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Initial research has demonstrated that SAI would cool the climate system and reduce climate risks in many aspects, though it is mired in unknown environmental risks and various sociopolitical ramifications. The proposed techniques are in the initial stage of research and development, providing a unique opportunity for upstream public engagement, long touted as a desirable pathway to more plural and inclusive governance of emergent technologies by opening up social choices in technology.

Path dependency of socio-technical development of SRM implies that the coming next decade constitutes a crucial period that would determine whether, and how, this hypothetical technology might be developed and incorporated into broader debate on climate change. Among others, one of the most acute challenges is how to forge international collaboration on SRM research, particularly relevant to pressing issues such as the assessment of benefits and impacts of SRM in local contexts as well as the design of (or ban on) field experiments. Such research collaboration across countries would be a prerequisite for effective governance of deployment, if it would ever be used. Deeper integration of natural and social sciences will be a key, along with public dialogue with citizens around the world, whose lives will be affected in good and bad ways. Such integration presents fundamental methodological and epistemic challenges to which the academic community must rise.