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Geoengineering Justice
Gets to Decide Whether to Hack the Climate
[image: {photo_credit}]

*Winter 2018 *| Jonathan Symons

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*t is the opening day of the 24th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework
Convention on Climate Change. As officials gather in Katowice, a center of
Poland’s coal and steel industries, to review progress toward the Paris
Agreement, five developing states, calling themselves the “Geoengineering
Justice Coalition,” circulate an ultimatum. By 2020, rich countries must
fulfill all pledges made in the Paris Agreement, including promises of $US
100 billion in annual assistance to the developing world. If they fail, the
coalition will commence solar geoengineering. Through interventions that
reflect a tiny proportion of the sun’s energy back into space, the**se
developing states promise to artificially halt global warming.*

*A spokesperson for the Geoengineering Justice Coalition addresses the
press: “It is now three decades since, at a meeting in Toronto in 1988,
developed countries first promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20
percent by 2005. **Today, we have reached a point where, even if all Paris
Agreement pledges are fulfilled, warming this century is likely to exceed 3*
 *As the climate has warmed, we have learned how heat waves, crop failures,
rising seas, and extreme weather visit their worst harms on those who are
already vulnerable. These harms to the world’s poorest people are caused —
albeit indirectly and unintentionally — by the activities of the richest.*

*“Thus when our scientists tell us that the poorest people can be the
greatest beneficiaries of solar geoengineering, we cannot dismiss them
I invite all countries to join in designing a pro-poor plan of
implementation. For developed countries, there is an admission price: they
must first contribute their proportionate share of adaptation assistance to
the Green Climate Fund. Geoengineering will commence only if the rich world
does not fulfill its promises, and only with the approval of a majority of
participating states.”*

Admittedly, the idea of a Geoengineering Justice Coalition is fanciful.
There is no significant constituency for either third-world radicalism or
hubristic technological interventions.
thinking about solar geoengineering from a developing-world perspective
serves another purpose: it disrupts the idea that in the Anthropocene all
share a common fate.

In the case of geoengineering, that idea has been codified conceptually in
the Oxford Principles, the most widely recognized ethical standards
governing the research and implementation of geoengineering. The principles
suggest that geoengineering must be regulated as a public good, with prior
informed consent of all affected communities and, consequently, a universal
governance arrangement to oversee implementation.

Measured against the Oxford Principles, the Geoengineering Justice
Coalition’s actions would be unethical, because they would not be
predicated upon a global democratic consensus. Most scholars agree. Some go
further. Cambridge geographer Mike Hulme, for instance, has argued that any
solar geoengineering would be “undesirable, ungovernable, and unreliable.”
Not only would it be impossible to achieve global agreement, but deployment
would create international tension. Once geoengineering commences,
suspicious minds might see the hand of foreign saboteurs in any unfavorable
weather pattern.

The universal language of the Oxford Principles, however, conceals a
sleight of hand. The principles require that the rules governing
intentional actions, through which developing countries might protect their
people from climate harms, should be very different from the rules
governing the unintentional actions that create those harms. It is the rich
world that has benefited most from those unintentional actions, not least
from the myriad ways in which fossil-fueled development has made citizens
of those nations much more resilient to climate extremes than their
counterparts in poor nations. For this reason, it is also the poor world
that stands to benefit most from intentional actions to mitigate climate
change, including geoengineering. Because the near-term threats of climate
change primarily afflict developing-world people, the rich and poor worlds
may ultimately reach quite divergent conclusions about a flawed but
functional techno-fix. In that eventuality, the universal ethical standards
articulated by the Oxford Principles, well intentioned as they may be,
might compound global injustice.


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