The Paradox of Climate Engineering

Climate engineering technologies, sometimes also referred to as geoengineering technologies, attempt to ward off the worst effects of climate change by intervening in the global climate system. We see the potentials offered by climate engineering technologies in counteracting the threats of climate change but also take into account the risks that arise from the side effects of these technologies on natural, social and political systems. We find a paradox of climate engineering, which consists in the circumstance that exactly those technologies that are capable of acting fast and effectively against rising temperatures at comparatively low costs, are also the technologies that are likely to create the greatest amount of social and political conflict. To address this apparent paradox, we argue that an institutional setting for researching and potentially deploying climate engineering technologies is needed which creates a sufficiently high degree of social and political legitimacy and addresses a set of specified problems connected to climate engineering. We present a proposal for such an institutional setting that explicitly addresses these concerns.

Policy Implications

  • Research on and potential uses of climate engineering technologies need to be coordinated internationally in a multilateral institutional setting.
  • An international climate engineering agency should be created that coordinates and disseminates research on climate engineering.
  • Research results should be evaluated by the IPCC.
  • Decision-making on climate engineering should occur within the UNFCCC, where the states party to that convention should decide on norms and rules that govern climate engineering (regarding, for example, an upper limit for manipulations of the radiation balance, a uniform metric for making different responses to climate change comparable, and a time limited moratorium on field tests and deployments of climate engineering technologies).
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