• Peer-Reviewed
NYU Environmental Law Journal · 2015

Liability for Solar Geoengineering: Historical Precedents, Contemporary Innovations, and Governance Possibilities

Joshua B. Horton, Andrew Parker, and David Keith

The prospect of geoengineering, or the “deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change,” carries with it a varied set of technical challenges. Yet it is the governance challenges associated with geoengineering that are likely to be far more difficult to overcome if deployment, or even large-scale experimentation, is ever seriously contemplated by the international community. Questions about decision making, political legitimacy, policy objectives, risk management, and other governance dilemmas have been raised with respect to both solar radiation management (SRM) and carbon dioxide removal (CDR) geoengineering methods. One particularly difficult challenge raised by commentators on geoengineering is the problem of liability; that is, how would international society deal with a climate engineering intervention gone wrong? In general, liability concerns are more novel and potentially more acute for SRM methods than for CDR techniques: carbon dioxide removal and storage present significant but relatively conventional liability problems related to carbon leakage and environmental impacts, whereas modifying planetary albedo introduces a range of possible side effects not previously encountered for which no direct governance precedents exist.

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