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Oxford Geoengineering Programme

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Announcement: Oxford to Lead £1.3m Research Project on Geoengineering Governance

Wednesday 25th April 2012

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 work will be led from the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, (InSIS), University of Oxford, and will also involve the Institute for Science and Ethics at Oxford together with Science and Technology Policy Research (SPRU) at the University of Sussex and the Faculty of Laws at University College London (UCL). The project’s PI is Professor Steve Rayner (steve.rayner@insis.ox.ac.uk) and its coordinator Peter Healey (peter.healey@insis.ox.ac.uk) , from whom further information can be obtained.

The project, which will begin work in July 2012 and run for two years,  identifies and addresses the governance challenges raised by a broad range of geoengineering options. Research will be fully international in scope: it will include research on a number of exemplary jurisdictions and workshops in a number of world regions.  Work is grouped around three themes - three sets of understandings required to inform decisions on geoengineering governance. Work packages under these themes are supported by workshops that will help to integrate the insights from the work package elements, and generate increased engagement with policymakers, practitioners and representatives of civil society as the project proceeds.  The themes are:

  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.

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