Credit: U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / NASA
The potential and pitfalls of climate engineering technologies are the subjects of a new research project led by UCLA School of Law's Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.
Climate engineering includes a variety of interventions – examples include reflecting a little sunlight to cool the Earth or recapturing carbon dioxide from power plants or the atmosphere – that could help to offset harm caused by elevated greenhouse gases and resultant climate change. Because the potential impacts of such technologies are poorly understood and cross international borders, international cooperation and control are necessary to keep risks in check.
The Emmett Institute project will focus on the governance of climate engineering technologies. The three-year effort, funded with grant from the Open Philanthropy Project, will be led by Edward ("Ted") Parson, the Dan and Rae Emmett Professor of Environmental Law at UCLA and co-director of the Emmett Institute.
"Climate engineering technologies have the potential to significantly reduce climate-related risks," said Parson. "They could also make climate risks worse or introduce serious new risks, depending on how they are developed, tested, used, and governed – and who gets to decide these things."
Several climate engineering approaches have been proposed to either modify the movement of carbon through the Earth system or the balance of incoming and outgoing heat. The ambitious global temperature targets stated at the 2015 Paris climate conference - holding global heating to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial levels - will very likely require some form of climate engineering to be achievable. Understanding how to control these technologies and limit the associated risks is essential for effective and prudent global climate policy.
The Emmett Institute project will examine issues including:
- The risks and governance needs posed by small-scale climate engineering research
- International coordination and oversight of climate engineering projects
- The interaction of climate engineering with other major elements of climate policy, including cutting emissions and adapting to changes
- The steps required to ensure peaceful, competent and prudent international responses to future proposals to deploy climate engineering
- The implications, for risk and governance needs, of potential regional variation in climate engineering effects