What is Geoengineering?

Geoengineering has been defined by the Royal Society (2009) as: “the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change”. One category of geoengineering techniques is Solar Radiation Management (SRM) in which one attempts to control global temperatures via altering the global energy flux by reflecting incoming short wave radiation. Aerosols injected into the Stratosphere is the SRM technique which has been identified as potentially the most affordable and effective option for reducing incident short-wave radiation (Royal Society, 2009).

Global Governance Issues

Geoengineering (as a technological possibility) is incredibly new and therefore it is subject to the lack of governance often associated with the early years of emerging technologies. It has been noted by experts that in such cases patents and other Intellectual Property (IP) become to all intents and purposes the existing form of governance.

Several governments and various members of the public have acknowledged this, and have expressed concerns over who will control geoengineering technologies.

Independently, both the Royal Society (2010) and the UK House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology (in its 2010 report, The Regulation of Geoengineering) have suggested that geoengineering is a technology that should be “regulated as a public good”.

In other words it is acknowledged that in order to regulate geoengineering properly there needs to be global agreement on how to do this. Also its been widely recognised that the measures used to do so should reflect the fact that geoengineering is:

  • Controversial
  • Cross-boundary
  • Technologically Varied
  • (Potentially?) Irreversible

Many commentators have stated that the window of opportunity to set up effective governance for geoengineering is rapidly disappearing.

The Oxford Principles of Geoengineering

SPICE has stated that it will publish its results in accordance with these principles and this has been incorporated into the revised Collaboration Agreement:

  1. Geoengineering to be regulated as a public good
  2. Public participation in geoengineering decision-making
  3. Disclosure of geoengineering research and open publication of results
  4. Independent assessment of impacts
  5. Governance before deployment