Climate Engineering in a multi-polar world. Why CE will be an issue for global policy-making

Monday February 29th 2016
Blavatnik School of Government, Lecture Theatre 2

Climate Engineering (CE) is the deliberate, large-scale intervention into the climate system to reduce the detrimental effects of anthropogenic global warming. The term subsumes a variety of technologies and methods, such as spraying sulfur particles into the stratosphere to reduce the heat from the sun reaching Earth or fertilizing oceans in order to increase their carbon uptake. Many of them imply a significant and long-term intervention into natural systems such as the carbon or the water cycle with far-reaching side-effects, such as the creation of artificial droughts. While no CE measure has been applied to date, the topic gained new relevance when CE measures were included in the latest Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a potential way to combat climate change. While CE measures range widely in terms of objective, scope, projected efficiency, cost and side-effects, all of them, if implemented, would pose daunting challenges to national and global governance in a multi-polar world. Existing transboundary conflicts over resources such as water or land could be exacerbated through the effects of intentionally influencing precipitation patterns and temperatures. Nations suffering strongly from the detrimental effects of climate change might feel compelled to unilaterally deploy CE measures which could affect their neighbors negatively – as the effects of many CE measures cannot be limited locally – and thus produce new conflicts.

Even if a global governance regime could be developed which regulates development and deployment of CE measures with recognition of all relevant actors on a global scale, a number of difficult questions would arise: When and why should deployment be started? Which effects of climate change should be considered ‘bad enough’ to warrant such an extreme step? Which criteria should lead to stopping CE in case it goes wrong? Other challenges present themselves to national policy-making: The deployment of CE could necessitate the replacement of democratic decision-making structures by ‘faster’, more authoritative processes. Interest groups from science, politics and economics could influence the decisions on CE with their very own agendas and objectives in mind. Issues such as these make the global political relevance of CE obvious. 

Chair: Dr Thomas Hale, Associate Professor, Blavatnik School of Government

Speaker: Judith Kreuter, Research Fellow, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany  

This event is open to all, please register to attend.