OGP Research » Geoengineering Governance

Geoengineering promises to be a controversial subject.  Climate change raises serious moral and political issues.  The development of new and powerful technologies has also been wracked with moral and political dilemmas.  As a set of potential technological responses to climate change, geoengineering raises both sets of problems simultaneously.

Research led by Dr. Clare Heyward:

Geoengineering raises questions of ethics and distributive justice.  Ethical questions concern humankind’s appropriate relationship with the non-human world.   People have different attitudes about what “natural” means and whether nature should be regarded primarily as a set of resources for human beings to use, or as an object of respect or reverence.  For example, some might object to geoengineering proposals because they may result in the “loss of the natural”.  For others, it might appear to be no different from any other kind of human interaction with the non-human world. 

Questions of distributive justice concern how people should be treated, or what they are entitled to.  Climate change is likely to affect water supplies, food supplies, human health, and subject some regions to flooding and others to drought.  Geoengineering might help avert some of these outcomes.  However, as a large-scale intervention in the Earth’s physical, biological or chemical systems and cycles, it carries its own risk of adverse effects.  How should benefits and burdens of geoengineering technologies be distributed?   For example, how should people who are made worse off from the deployment of a geoengineering technology be compensated, and by whom?  Does it matter if the risks could not have been known at the time the decision was taken?  Can geoengineering technology be developed for commercial profit?

The only way to address these complex issues is to have a system of governance, in which discussion of these fundamental issues can take place.  To develop a system of governance we must consider: what institutions or actors should control any decision-making processes that might arise?   What does it mean to have a fair process for making decisions about geoengineering?  Who should be consulted and from whom is it necessary to gain consent?  How much weight should ethical objections and other factors carry?

 The Oxford Principles

Members of the Oxford Geoengineering Programme have continually emphasised the need for research and discussion on the questions of governance, even in the early days of the development of geoengineering technology.  Steve Rayner, Tim Kruger and Julian Savulescu, together with Catherine Redgewell (University College London) and Nick Pidgeon (University of Cardiff) submitted a set of five high-level principles for the governance of geoengineering research.  In brief, they are:

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

More details can be found here.

The Oxford Principles Authors welcome comments on these principles and suggestions for their development.        

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