EASAC has, in its recent report on NETs , ignored the fact that NETs are 
simply another form of mitigation and instead  incorrectly placed 
mitigation as a priority over NETs .   This is a fundamental error caused 
by the notion that it is better to prevent pollution at its source than 
trying to clean up the whole pool of pollution itself.   A similar 
discussion is going on in the ocean plastic pollution space.    Clearly, 
as  a society, we are aware that our actions add up and we can all as 
individuals do something to mitigate pollution of a given type, but that 
doesnt mean that we dont have to clear up the mess that we have already 
And as has been posted separately, the Chinese are attempting to clean up 
the particulate pollution in the air in their cities caused by coal power 
plants using huge filtration towers - the mitigation approach would have 
been to switch off the power plants.
Clearly this year is of special importance for the debate as the IPCC 
process is going to put these issues before policymakers in various forms.  
  There is already some sign that new US policy instruments for carbon 
dioxide removal will influence that discussion.

This is from Peter in another thread. 

*One of the distinctive properties of CO2 is that it distributes itself 
uniformly and so removing a CO2 molecular by flue gas capture and by Direct 
Air Capture have identical impacts - and are thus both pure mitigation 
approaches . The only distinction is that DAC can remove CO2 that was 
previouslly emitted by flue gas so it has the additional capability to deal 
with overshoot. In  this frame DAC is clearly not geoengineering any more 
than any human activity is geoengineering because as all know too well 
small emissions by individuals when there are billions of us is 
geoengineering our plant by changing its climate . *

Plus an extract from an early piece from Steve Rayner who was involved in 
framing the Oxford Geoengineering Princliples-


NTS Insight June 2011

Click here for the PDF version. 

Climate Change and Geoengineering Governance

By Steve Rayner.

How Might We Geoengineer the Climate?

The first thing to emphasise is that geoengineering technologies do not yet 
exist, although some of the components that might go into them are already 
available or are under development for other purposes. For example, carbon 
sequestration in geological formations, which is already being explored for 
conventional carbon capture and storage (CCS) from power stations,3 
be an integral part of a geoengineering programme to capture CO2 from 
ambient air by artificial means. However the front end of the system – the 
removal of CO2 from ambient air – is currently only available on a very 
small scale for use in submarines, where the very high cost of the current 
technology is justified. In discussing geoengineering, therefore, it is 
important not to fall victim to Whitehead’s (1919) fallacy of misplaced 
concreteness, and talk about the comparative merits and drawbacks of 
geoengineering technologies as if they were already well developed and 

Second, it is essential to recognise that the term ‘geoengineering’ 
currently encompasses a wide variety of concepts exhibiting diverse 
technical characteristics with very different implications for their 
governance. There is a tendency in some circles to seek to exempt favoured 
technological concepts from the category of geoengineering, leaving the 
term to apply only to big, scary or impractical options. This paper resists 
that impulse precisely because, as has just been argued, the technologies 
are really just ideas at this stage, and it is important not to close in 
prematurely on which technologies require specific levels of governance.

However, the very variety of technologies suggests the need for a 
preliminary taxonomy of technology concepts that identifies salient 
characteristics for both research and governance considerations.
Developing a taxonomy of technology concepts

*Solar radiation management (SRM) and carbon dioxide removal (CDR)*

The Royal Society (2009) identifies two principal mechanisms for moderating 
the climate by geoengineering. One involves reflecting some of the sun’s 
energy back into space to reduce the warming effect of increasing levels of 
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is described as solar radiation 
management (SRM). The other approach is to find ways to remove some of the 
CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it in the ground or in the oceans. 
This is called carbon dioxide removal (CDR).

*Ecosystems enhancement and black-box engineering*

The Royal Society (2009) also recognises, but gives less prominence to, 
another way of discriminating between geoengineering technologies, one 
which cuts across the distinction between the two *goals*, SRM and CDR. 
Both goals can be achieved by one of two different *means*, described below.
*Table 1: Geoengineering for climate change: taxonomy of technology 

*Carbon dioxide removal (CDR)* *Solar radiation management (SRM)*

*Ecosystems Enhancement*
Ocean iron fertilisation Stratospheric tools
*Black-box Engineering* Air capture (artificial trees) Space reflectors

One is to put something into the air or water or on the land’s surface to 
stimulate or enhance natural processes. For example, injecting sulphate 
aerosols into the upper atmosphere imitates the action of volcanoes, which 
is known to be quite effective at reducing the amount of the sun’s energy 
reaching the earth’s surface; this is one candidate SRM technique. 
Similarly, we know that lack of iron constrains plankton growth in some 
parts of the ocean. Thus, adding iron to these waters would enhance 
plankton growth, taking up atmospheric CO2 in the process. This would be a 
potential CDR technique.

The other approach to both SRM and CDR is through more traditional 
black-box engineering. Mirrors in space (either large ones, or more likely, 
myriad small ones), either in orbit or at the so-called Lagrange point 
between the earth and the sun, would reflect sunlight (SRM), while a 
potential CDR technique would be to build machines to remove CO2 from 
ambient air and inject it into old oil and gas wells and saline aquifers in 
the same way that is currently proposed for CCS technology.

Combining these two means (ecosystems enhancement and black-box 
engineering) with the two goals described above (SRM and CDR) creates a 
serviceable typology for discussing the range of options being considered 
under the general rubric of geoengineering (Table 1).

^ To the top 
Opportunities and Limitations of Different Approaches

At first sight, it might seem that the different goals and means 
represented in Table 1 are alternatives. Some commentators have suggested 
that geoengineering is itself an alternative to conventional mitigation 
(e.g., Barrett, 2008; the Royal Society (2009) report has however 
emphatically rejected this idea). However, closer scrutiny suggests that 
different techniques may be suited to very different tasks and time 

Currently, there is much interest in SRM using sulphate aerosols. 
Observations of volcanic eruptions have shown that the presence of these 
tiny particles in the atmosphere can effectively cool the earth. The 
technique is also relatively straightforward, the financial costs involved 
appear to be relatively modest and such a programme could be implemented 
quickly. Hence, many commentators see aerosols as a Band-Aid, to stop the 
earth from getting too hot and triggering a runaway greenhouse effect or 
other possible climatic emergencies (so-called tipping points).

At the other extreme, air capture of CO2 using ‘artificial trees’ followed 
by sequestration in spent oil and gas wells or saline aquifers seems a 
relatively distant and costly prospect compared to aerosols. In any case, 
as with conventional emissions mitigation, the climate benefits of removing 
CO2 from the air will take longer to realise because changes in the global 
average temperature lag behind changes in greenhouse gas concentrations by 
many years. However, in principle, all the CO2 that came out of the ground 
could be put back there. Thus, in theory at least, air capture holds the 
prospect of restoring atmospheric CO2 concentrations to pre-industrial 
levels over the very long term.

Sulphate aerosols have at least two well-recognised drawbacks. One is that 
the effects on the earth’s climate may be uneven, possibly causing 
disruption of the Asian monsoon upon which billions rely for agriculture. 
Another is that stopping a sulphate aerosol programme in the event of 
unforeseen negative outcomes would result in a sudden temperature spike, 
unless drastic compensating emissions reductions have been simultaneously 
achieved. In other words, the full environmental and social costs of 
aerosols may be very much higher than the programme implementation costs 
and there is likely to be a high level of technological lock-in. These 
drawbacks strongly suggest that SRM using aerosols would be controversial. 
Public opinion is also likely to be less than favourable towards 
‘tinkering’ with earth systems, especially through what could be described 
as deliberate air pollution. Furthermore, the transborder implications of 
any deployment of the technology suggest that international agreement would 
be required; and international agreement on climate actions has proven to 
be highly elusive.

On the other hand, except where the geological formations used for storage 
cut across national boundaries, regulation of air-capture technology would 
seem to be almost entirely a matter for the governments of the countries in 
which it is implemented.4 
in the event that the technology did have unforeseen negative consequences, 
there would be no technical barrier to switching the black-box machines 
off, although it could be argued that vested commercial interests might 
push to keep them running due to the sunk costs involved.

Geoengineering techniques such as the injection of sulphate aerosols into 
the stratosphere may mimic the cooling effect caused by large volcanic 

*Credit*: Game McGimsey / U.S. Geological Survey.

This is the geoengineering paradox (Rayner, 2010). The technology that 
seems to be nearest to maturity technically and could be used to shave a 
few degrees off a future peak in anthropogenic temperature – that is, 
sulphate aerosols – is likely to be the most difficult to implement from a 
social and political standpoint, while the technology that might be easiest 
to implement from a social perspective and has the potential to deliver a 
durable solution to the problem of atmospheric CO2 concentrations – that 
is, air-capture technology – is the most distant from being technically 
realised. The two technologies appear to be the bounding cases and other 
geoengineering technologies fall somewhere in between.

The above brief example of the specificity of geoengineering applications 
helps to emphasise the Royal Society (2009:47) findings that geoengineering 
cannot be considered as an alternative to conventional mitigation nor can 
its merits be evaluated sui generis because the technologies involved ‘vary 
greatly in their technical aspects, scope in space and time, potential 
environmental impacts timescales of operation, and the governance and legal 
issues that they pose’.

Furthermore, the Royal Society (2009:ix) concluded that the ‘acceptability 
of geoengineering will be determined as much by social, legal, and 
political issues as by scientific and technical factors. There are serious 
and complex governance issues that need to be resolved.’

^ To the top 
The Challenges of Geoengineering Governance

The key challenge of geoengineering governance is that articulated in 1980 
by the British sociologist, David Collingridge, as the ‘technology control 
dilemma’. Briefly, the dilemma consists of the fact that it would be ideal 
to be able to put appropriate governance arrangements in place upstream of 
the development of a technology, to ensure that all the stages from 
research and development through to demonstration and full deployment are 
appropriately organised and adequately regulated to safeguard against 
unwanted health, environmental and social consequences. However, experience 
repeatedly teaches us that it is all but impossible in the early stages of 
the development of a technology to know how it will turn out in its final 
form. Mature technologies rarely, if ever, bear close resemblance to the 
initial ideas of their originators. By the time certain technologies are 
widely deployed, it is often too late to build in desirable characteristics 
without major disruptions. The control dilemma has led to calls for a 
moratorium on certain emerging technologies and, in some cases, on field 
experiments with geoengineering.5 
moratorium would make it almost impossible to accumulate the information 
necessary to make informed judgements about the feasibility or desirability 
of the proposed technology.

However, Collingridge did not intend identification of the control dilemma 
to be a counsel of despair. He and his successors in the field identify 
various characteristics of technologies that contribute to inflexibility 
and irreversibility and which are therefore to be avoided where more 
flexible alternatives are available. These undesirable characteristics 
include high levels of capital intensity, hubristic claims about 
performance, and long lead times from conception to realisation, to which 
the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP, 2008) recently 
added, in the context of nanoparticles, ‘uncontrolled release into the 
environment’. Consideration of the control dilemma suggests that it would 
be sensible to favour technologies that are encapsulated over those 
involving dispersal of materials into the environment; and those that are 
easily reversible over those that imply a high level of economic or 
technological lock-in.

The other key challenge for geoengineering governance lies in the varying 
degrees of international agreement and coordination that would seem to be 
required for the different technologies involved. At least upon first 
examination, carbon air capture with geological sequestration would not 
seem to require much in the way of international agreement, except where 
the geological formations chosen for storage cross national boundaries and 
possibly where facilities are located close to national borders, or where 
sequestration is to occur offshore.6 
planning regulations, rules governing environmental impact assessment, and 
health and safety laws, would seem to provide, at least in principle, an 
adequate framework for ensuring the responsible management of the 
technology where there is little prospect of transborder damage occurring 
to people or the environment. Existing national legislation for the 
governance of CCS from fixed-point sources (e.g., coal-fired power plants) 
without an overarching global governance framework underscores this point.

However, the situation seems to be very different with CDR involving iron 
fertilisation because it involves modification of natural processes that 
cannot be territorially contained. Similarly, any kind of SRM, whether 
involving space mirrors (black-box engineering), or cloud whitening or 
sulphate aerosols (modification of natural processes), would seem to 
require international agreement even for field trials, let alone deployment.

The Royal Society (2009) suggests that many issues of international 
coordination and control could be resolved through the application, 
modification and extension of existing treaties and institutions governing 
the atmosphere, the ocean, space and national territories, rather than by 
the creation of specific new international institutions. All geoengineering 
methods fall under provisions of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on 
Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol which impose a general 
obligation to ‘employ appropriate methods, for example impact assessments, 
… with a view to minimizing adverse effects … on the quality of the 
environment, of projects or measures undertaken to mitigate or adapt to 
climate change’ (UN, 1992). Additionally, there are several customary laws 
and general principles that would apply to such activities. For instance, 
the duty not to cause significant transboundary harm is recognised in many 
treaty instruments7 
by customary international law. As the Royal Society (2009:40) observes, 
‘[s]tates are not permitted to conduct or permit activities within their 
territory, or in common spaces such as the high seas or outer space, 
without regard to the interests of other states or for the protection of 
the global environment’.

The use of sulphate aerosols for SRM may fall under the jurisdiction of the 
Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer as they may 
have ozone-depleting properties. Ocean fertilisation has already caught the 
attention of the 1972 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by 
Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter and its 1996 Protocol (known as the 
London Convention and Protocol), which has adopted a cautious approach to 
permitting carefully controlled scientific research through a 2008 
resolution agreeing that the technology is governed by the treaty but 
exempting legitimate scientific research from its definition of dumping. 
The Convention on Biological Diversity has also sought to intervene to 
prevent ocean fertilisation experiments except for small-scale experiments 
in coastal waters.8 

Potentially lengthy negotiations would be necessary before sulphate 
aerosols could be deployed by any country or other agent within an agreed 
international governance framework.9 
such a framework, such activities would likely attract the condemnation of 
the international community.

Overall, the international legal framework within which geoengineering will 
be conducted remains as under-specified as the technologies themselves. 
Furthermore, the control dilemma means that it is almost impossible to 
determine governance requirements until the shape of any of the 
technologies under consideration is better known. This dilemma led the 
Royal Society (2009:61) to recommend establishing an international 
scientific collaboration to ‘develop a code of practice for geoengineering 
research and provide recommendations to the international scientific 
community for a voluntary research governance framework’.

On Wednesday, February 21, 2018 at 3:52:53 AM UTC, Christopher Preston 
> An introductory blog piece about why intention makes a difference in 
> climate forcing.
> https://plastocene.com/2018/02/20/philosopher-meets-meteorologist-to-talk-about-climate-engineering/

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