Geoengineering governance benefits from £1.3m research grant

03 May 2012

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Oxford is to lead a £1.3m research project on Climate Geoengineering Governance funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

The two-year international project, which begins in July 2012, seeks to identify and addresses governance challenges raised by a broad range of geoengineering options. Geoengineering is the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change. It can broadly be divided into methods to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and solar radiation management techniques. Wide-ranging and controversial views surround debates on geoengineering, but it is also broadly agreed that far greater research into the science, ethics and governance of such proposals is urgently needed. This new research project will contribute substantially to our understandings of the issues, challenges and potential pathways for geoengineering research.

The work builds on an initial grant that established the Oxford Geoengineering Programme at the Oxford Martin School two years ago. Research will be led by Professor Steve Rayner, and will involve collaboration among three Oxford Martin School groups, the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, the Institute for Science and Ethics and the Oxford Geoengineering Programme, as well as with the University of Sussex (SPRU) and the Faculty of Laws at University College London (UCL).

This ESRC funded project will include research within various exemplary jurisdictions and workshops in a number of world regions focusing on three main themes:

  1. Framings of Geoengineering. How is geoengineering currently framed in sociotechnical and legal terms? What can we learn about its characteristics in relation to the multilevel governance challenges of other complex technologies to emerge in recent times, or from attempts to manage complexity in the financial system in the light of the crisis? What conceptions of justice and fairness might be used to frame our approach to its regulation? What current treaties and laws bear upon it? What other broad purposes, other than the mitigation of climate change itself, might geoengineering governance pursue?
  2. Dilemmas of Control of Geoengineering Technologies.What particular governance challenges and opportunities does geoengineering present - in assessing benefits and risks, in public acceptability, in the risks of lock-in and path dependency, in avoiding "appraisal optimism" in assessing the economic case, in appropriate use of precaution in the face of uncertainty, and in international relations - and how might we try to deal with these? What are the specific “dual-use” challenges? How do we see it working as a system of innovation - who would experiment or implement what, where, and what capacity building and technology transfer might be involved?
  3. Choosing Governance and Regulatory Requirements. How would governance and regulatory arrangements work in practice both within and between jurisdictions? Can they be sensitive and adaptive enough to respond to changes in impacts or criteria? What new rulemaking and procedural harmonisation would be required, and could the buy-in of various interests be secured? Are the domestic controls in place to meet these requirements in a variety of key jurisdictions? Finally, what wider lessons for the assessment, regulation and governance of emerging technologies can we learn from the geoengineering case? Work includes scenario workshops with stakeholders in helping to define possible circumstances in which different approaches to geoengineering might be the subject of experiment or deployment, and the governance approaches required.

The aim of the workshops is to integrate the insights from the research and generate increased engagement with policymakers, practitioners and representatives of civil society.