by Michael Burger & Justin Gundlach
Deliberately attempting to alter the climate, either by removing greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere or by reducing the amount of sunlight that hits the earth’s surface, would take humanity into uncharted territory, both in scientific and political terms. Given the precarious state of the climate and the world’s current rate of GHG emissions, many argue that research into climate engineering must begin now, lest we encounter a climate emergency and lack the tools to address it. Others, however, argue that investing in research on how to (re)engineer the climate puts humanity at a different type of risk – namely, trying to figure out how to govern climate engineering without first answering the question of whether climate engineering should be pursued at all.
“Research Governance” is a chapter in the forthcoming volume from Cambridge University Press, edited by Michael B. Gerrard and Tracy Hester, Climate Engineering and the Law: Regulation and Liability for Solar Radiation Management and Carbon Dioxide Removal. The chapter describes the nascent and inchoate current state of climate engineering research governance, as well as the key issues that any effort to govern climate engineering must address. After surveying research efforts, issues, and institutions – or institutional gaps – the authors conclude as follows: “there is a very real and increasingly urgent need to answer the key questions surrounding governance: what qualifies as climate engineering research subject to governance, at what point do governance requirements kick in, what substantive rules should apply, and who should do the governing.”