Geoengineering Needs a Global Governance Structure

Geoengineering (or climate engineering) is the artificial modification of the earth's climate systems through two primary ideologies, Solar Radiation Management (SRM) and Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR). Some Geoengineering experiments are violating U.N rules.

Recently a controversial Geoengineering scheme for ocean fertilisation dumped around 100 tonnes of iron sulphate into the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Canada in what is called a “blatant violation” of two international moratoria by lawyers, environmentalists and civil society groups. Ocean fertilisation schemes net lucrative carbon credits.

“Geoengineering is not a new concept but is a growing area and is also linked to Bioengineering. So when you alter living systems (humans) and ecosystems (the environment) there is a direct link that needs to be better understood and governed on a global scale in order to avoid unintended consequences,”

says Nicolas De Santis President of Gold Mercury International.

With policymakers and political leaders increasingly unable to combat global climate change, more scientists are considering the use of manual manipulation of the environment to slow warming’s damage to the planet. Professor Jon Carlson of the University of Iowa Law believes the legal ramifications of this kind of Geoengineering need to be thought through in advance and a global governance structure put in place soon to oversee these efforts.

“Geoengineering is a global concern that will have climate and weather impacts in all countries, and it is virtually inevitable that some group of people will be harmed in the process. The international community must act now to take charge of this activity to ensure that it is studied and deployed with full attention to the rights and interests of everyone on the planet,”

says Professor Jon Carlson.

Carlson is an expert in environmental law and international law who believes Geoengineering is inevitable and will likely happen sooner than later. He considers the issue in a new paper, “Reining in Phaethon’s Chariot: Principles for the Governance of Geoengineering,” published in the current issue of the journal Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems.

The concept of Geoengineering goes back to at least the 19th century, when scientists proposed seeding clouds to increase rainfall. Today, scientists have a long list of Geoengineering ideas that could be used to slow the impact of global warming while other methods are developed to actually mitigate the damage. Some ideas are simple and locally focused, such as planting new forests to absorb carbon dioxide, or painting roofs and paved areas white to reduce solar heat absorption.

Others are more complex and controversial—manually cooling oceans so carbon dioxide-laden water sinks to the bottom more quickly; building space-based shields and mirrors to deflect solar heat from the planet; or injecting chemicals like hydrogen sulfide or sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere, creating an aerosol shield that reduces the amount of solar heat reaching the earth’s surface. But Carlson says Geoengineering comes with obvious international legal implications because no one country can implement its own Geoengineering plan without causing weather or climate changes in other countries.

To address these issues, Carlson urges the creation of an international governing body separate from any existing organisation that approves or rejects Geoengineering plans, taking into consideration the best interests of people and countries around the world. He says any legal regimen involving Geoengineering activities should be required to be publicly announced in the planning stage, and all countries are notified so they have a voice in deliberations. Carlson’s proposed body would oversee a compensation fund to help people and countries that are harmed by other country’s approved Geoengineering activities, or by unseen effects of those activities.

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