• General Interest
Bipartisan Policy Center · 2011

Geoengineering: a national strategic plan for research on the potential effectiveness, feasibility, and consequences of climate remediation technologies

Geoengineering is controversial—indeed, the term itself is controversial because it is both broad and imprecise. The task force avoids using the term “geoengineering” in the body of this report.1 We prefer the term “climate remediation,” which describes technologies that are intentionally designed to counteract the climate effects of past greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.2 The basket of concepts and technologies generally included in this category vary widely in scope, application, and impact. Therefore, they raise quite different scientific, technical, political, and ethical questions. Some of those technologies are thought to be high leverage (i.e., small interventions that may result in large effects on climate), but those technologies are also ones that could produce large, adverse side effects. Technologies that may be both high leverage and high risk present special challenges for research oversight. There are also potentially important technologies that are not high-leverage ones but that, nonetheless, present their own set of environmental risks. Those climate remediation approaches are discussed in detail in Chapter II. Managing risk is a central principle of effective climate policy. This task force strongly believes that climate remediation technologies are no substitute for controlling risk through climate mitigation (i.e., reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases) and climate adaptation (i.e., enhancing the resilience of human-made and natural systems to climate changes). Most climate remediation concepts proposed to date involve some combination of risks, financial costs, physical limitations, or a combination of the three that make the concepts inappropriate to pursue except as complementary or emergency measures—for example, if the climate system reaches a “tipping point” and swift remedial action is required. The United States needs to be able to judge whether particular climate remediation techniques could offer a meaningful response to the risks of climate change. But even if it decides not to deploy any climate remediation technology, the United States needs to evaluate steps that others might take and to be able to effectively participate in—and lead—the important international conversations that are likely to emerge around such issues and activities in the years ahead. With that in mind, the task force believes the federal government should embark on a focused and systematic program of research about climate remediation. The federal government is the only entity that has the incentive, responsibility, and capacity to run a broad, systematic and effective program; it can also play an important role in effectively establishing international research norms. Because of the new and unique issues it raises, research into many climate remediation techniques will require new governance structures to engage the public and to set parameters for the research. Those parameters must change over time as understanding of the risks of climate remediation evolves.

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