Responsible Innovation

The SPICE project is a feasibility study of an emerging technology in a controversial and globally important area. As such it has been recognised that special attention should be paid to stakeholder views and social implications.

The SPICE team have worked to understand and improve the responsible governance of geoengineering research, through:

  • A Research Councils UK Stagegate Process
  • Extra Funding Conditions
  • A Collaboration Agreement (which has been hailed as a model for future geoengineering research collaborations)
  • Various Voluntary Commitments e.g. signing up to “The Oxford Principles of Geoengineering”
  • Stakeholder Engagement Activities

The SPICE team are now working with social scientist Dr Jack Stilgoe from University College London (with support from the Economic and Social Research Council) to explore questions of the social and ethical dimensions of geoengineering in more depth.

Governance for geoengineering in general or Solar Radiation Management (SRM) in particular is still not in place. SPICE hopes to inform the discussion for decision-makers.

Internal Governance- The Stagegate Process

SPICE was conducted under the auspices of RCUK who recognised the emerging and potentially controversial nature of this technology. They put in place a “Stagegate” to properly manage the project and to adequately take account of stakeholder opinions as regards any practical elements. At the Stagegate meetings the project leaders presented progress reports and plans to address various criteria. If not satisfied then the project team had to re-address these issues and re-present. Until all criteria were adequately met, funding for certain activities would not be released. This mechanism ensured that stakeholder engagement activities were a priority for SPICE.

Responsible Innovation for Novel Technologies

Responsible Innovation means helping researchers understand the wider opportunities and uncertainties of emerging technologies early on in the innovation process. SPICE strongly supports taking a responsible innovation approach to new technologies, especially those with potential to affect people on a global scale.

The Oxford Principles of Geoengineering

Geoengineering is new and, as with other emerging technologies, there is little formal governance in place. There have however been various efforts to come up with governance principles, most prominently the Oxford Principles, endorsed by the UK House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology in its 2010 report, The Regulation 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

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 it's 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.