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Aims & Architecture


The project’s key objectives are:

  • to provide a timely basis to the governance of geoengineering through robust research on the ethical, legal, social and geopolitical implications of a range of geoengineering approaches, building on the foundations of the Oxford Principles on Geoengineering Governance;
  • to offer guidelines on the governance and regulation that might support the pursuit of various policy objectives and the machinery that might be required;
  • to use this research as the basis of a dialogue between key stakeholders on the possible role of geoengineering in relation to approaches to the management of climate change through mitigation and adaptation. This dialogue will build on existing processes of UK and international engagement to be organised by the Oxford Geoengineering Programme from spring 2011;
  • to recommend further research which may support future decisions on these issues.

Project Architecture

Work in CGG is grouped around three themes. Work packages under these themes are supported by workshops that will help to integrate the insights from the work package elements, and generate increased engagement with policymakers, practitioners and representatives of civil society as the project proceeds.

  1. Framings of Geoengineering. How is geoengineering currently framed in sociotechnical and legal terms? What can we learn about its characteristics in relation to the multilevel governance challenges of other complex technologies to emerge in recent times, or from attempts to manage complexity in the financial system in the light of the crisis? What conceptions of justice and fairness might be used to frame our approach to its regulation? What current treaties and laws bear upon it? What other broad purposes, other than the mitigation of climate change itself, might geoengineering governance pursue?
  2. Dilemmas of Control of Geoengineering Technologies. What particular governance challenges and opportunities does geoengineering present - in assessing benefits and risks, in public acceptability, in the risks of lock-in and path dependency, in avoiding "appraisal optimism" in assessing the economic case, in appropriate use of precaution in the face of uncertainty, and in international relations - and how might we try to deal with these? How do we see it working as a system of innovation - who would experiment or implement what, where, and what capacity building and technology transfer might be involved? Work planned under this theme includes world regional workshops in China, India, Africa and Brazil.
  3. Choosing Governance and Regulatory Requirements. How would governance and regulatory arrangements work in practice both within and between jurisdictions? Can they be sensitive and adaptive enough to respond to changes in impacts or criteria? What new rulemaking and procedural harmonisation would be required, and could the buy-in of various interests be secured? Are the domestic controls in place to meet these requirements in a variety of key jurisdictions? Finally, what wider lessons for the assessment, regulation and governance of emerging technologies can we learn from the geoengineering case? Work includes scenario workshops with stakeholders in helping to define possible circumstances in which different approaches to geoengineering might be the subject of experiment or deployment, and the governance approaches required.

Work Packages

 Click the theme headings to reveal further information.

WP1. Geoengineering as a ‘novel’ sociotechnical construction

1a. Competing narratives of geoengineering and their stabilisation.

1b. How does geoengineering relate to the evolving discourse about climate change and a range of approaches to mitigation and adaptation? 

Work on tasks 1a and 1b will employ discourse analysis, web analysis of the structure and dynamics of controversies surrounding geoengineering and selected face-to-face interviews with key actors who are framing the debate – as well as of emerging frameworks for understanding discourses on stability and resilience.  It will feed into and draw on the integrative and engagement workshops organised under this theme. It will be jointly directed by Dr Javier Lezaun (InSIS, Oxford) and Professor Andrew Stirling (SPRU, Sussex).

WP2. Conceptions of Justice

2a. What are the implications of different accounts of justice that might be employed in guiding research and in the implementation of geoengineering?

2b. What are the risks associated with research on geoengineering interventions and their implementation, and on what basis can it be decided who should absorb them? What are the potential consequences of decisions as to who should pay for the research and for its implementation? What are the implications of intractable uncertainties about the outcomes of geoengineering?

2c. On what basis might it be decided how the benefits might be distributed (assuming that they are not going to be enjoyed by all)?

Work will be carried out in the Institute for Science and Ethics, Philosophy, Oxford, under the leadership of Professor Julian Savulescu. It will involve extensively reviewing work in normative ethics and political philosophy and ascertaining the relevance and implications of the dominant normative principles for actual discourse on geoengineering.

WP3. Current Law and Regulation

Research under this work package will analyse the extent to which geoengineering technologies may be addressed by existing laws, regulations and treaties, and the nature and limits of societal control they afford. What are the limits to their ability to control geoengineering under different circumstances? What new provisions may be necessary. What is required for regulation to be sensitive and adaptive to changing circumstances? What are the implications of different kinds of limits to control?

Research will be led by Professor Catherine Redgwell of the Faculty of Laws at UCL and will lay the base of further research in phases 2 & 3 of the project which will draw on the findings of other work packages and also track the development of legal and regulatory responses over the period of the project. It will involve one post-doctoral researcher for 6 months, reviewing primary cases and conducting interviews with leading experts in national and international law.

Integrative and engagement activity for this set of work packages

Opening workshop: Putting CGG in context. The aim of this workshop is to try to put the project into its broader intellectual and policy context. What can we learn from earlier work on geoengineering? How does the geoengineering debate compare with the structure, processes and principal actors involved in controversies over other recent developments, for example, in human genomics, genetically modified crops, nanotechnology, artificial life, etc. How does it draw on and contribute to emerging wider understandings concerning major pathways for sociotechnical innovations and their stabilisation and development, in relation to conceptions of justice invoked in their regulation, and in the regulatory mechanisms employed? What are the systematic implications of different kinds of uncertainty? 

The workshop will include a session dedicated to trying to learn from the developments in financial governance following the global financial crisis. In particular it will explore the effectiveness of reverse-stress testing, its relevance to technology assessment and to determine specifically whether it can provide early diagnosis of potential lack of efficacy, or of unintended consequences of planned geoengineering approaches. The explication of the processes and their linkages that might emerge from such work will also be the first steps towards better modelling of the various options at a later stage, including economic modelling.

WP4. Issues of socio-technical path dependence and lock-in

4a. What are the major mechanisms for path dependency and lock-in for different socio-technical options under SRM and CDR approaches? For example, stratospheric aerosol injection requires lock-in in that ceasing continued deployment before any other measures to reduce atmospheric carbon were in place would cause a rapid temperature spike. 

4b. Taking account of wider social, institutional and discursive dynamics around pathway-creation, are there ways of reducing lock-in by targeted socio-technical arrangements to respond to specific risk and liability profiles? 

4c. What challenges and opportunities are presented in considering tensions, complementarities and coherence between distinct pathways for geoengineering development, of a kind that might be pursued in parallel through deliberately-configured diversity in co-ordinated international portfolios of research and development strategies? How might emerging frameworks for analysing portfolio diversity and coherence help inform policy appraisal?

4d. Some kinds of lock-in are associated with serious under-estimates of project cost (‘appraisal optimism’), often due to distorted incentive structures. What lessons can be learned from economic analysis of earlier attempts at large-scale, one-off, complex projects involving novelty, including the design of better incentive structures? (Flyvbjerg et al., 2003) How far can we gain some idea of the financial commitments that may be involved in projects with vague and uncertain parameters, and can analysis of ‘appraisal optimism’ be applied differentially to different types of geoengineering project to gain some knowledge about which kinds of project may be most vulnerable to economic aspects of lock-in?

Work would be under the direction of Professor Gordon MacKerron (SPRU, Sussex) and Professor Steve Rayner (InSIS, Oxford) and would involve a critical review of existing literature and interviews with key players in technology assessment and appraisal (drawing significantly on those contributing to the opening workshop in month 6).

WP5. Issues of public engagement and consent

5a. Forms of consent and their applicability to geoengineering technologies and to the scenarios for their deployment. How can and should different forms of consent – e.g. explicit consent, revealed consent (through the use, among others, of market mechanisms), systematic social preference (Rayner and Cantor, 1987) or Rawlsian hypothetical consent - apply to the choice of geoengineering strategies?

5b. What are the lessons that can be learned from the considerable international experimentation with different forms of public engagement and precautionary appraisal in the assessment and governance of new technologies?

5c.  How is current research on geoengineering and/or deployment affecting attitudes to climate change, mitigation and adaption, and vice versa? In which contexts might a so-called moral hazard occur whereby mitigation efforts are attenuated by the perceived availability of a simple technical fix?

5d. The development of scenarios setting out possible thresholds/tipping points between current mitigation and/or adaption strategies and the deployment of geoengineering, and the issues arising in the transitions between these. For example, how and by whom would a “climatic emergency” justifying deployment of sulphate aerosols be determined?

Work will be carried out in close collaboration with Professor Nick Pidgeon of Cardiff University, who works on public attitudes under the IAGP study, and Professor Richard Darton of the Department of Engineering Science, Oxford, who contributes both to IAGP and the Oxford Geoengineering Programme. It will be pursued by Dr Javier Lezaun (InSIS, Oxford).

WP6.  Issues of geopolitical diversity, stability and security

6a. What are the emerging national and intra-national positions on different geoengineering approaches? How do different styles or stages of production and consumption and different political cultures affect national positions? This WP will involve thinking through the possible effects of policy decisions on deployment and on the politico-economics of the distribution of benefits and costs.

6b. What are the potential scenarios by which the uncontrolled use of geoengineering for peaceful circumstances – for example, the pre-emptive use of SRM by a consortium of countries with threatened coastlines which had become pessimistic at the prospects for mitigation by other means – might endanger regional stability and even trigger conflict among states affected by intended or unintended negative effects of geoengineering? Do these scenarios look the same from the perspective of major polities?

6c. What is the likelihood that geoengineering could be a weapon of choice in future conflicts? What can we learn about the successes and failures of attempts to control new weapons through treaty and convention, or through technology diffusion controls? Is the convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD – adopted in 1977) adequate to control offensive uses of geoengineering?

6d. What are the appropriate principles and procedures for weighing risks of intentional misuse against likely environmental benefits of geoengineering? When, if ever, are approaches typically used in the face of accidental risks (such as the precautionary principle and cost-benefit analysis) also suitable for assessing risks of intentional misuse? How should liability for adverse effects be allocated between the developers, users and beneficiaries of geoengineering technologies? Should liability depend on establishing intentional wrongdoing?

This research will be carried under the lead of Sussex drawing on insights from work on chemical and biological weapons under the Harvard Sussex Program which has worked since 1990 to instil scholarship into public policy on biological and chemical weapons. It will be run by Professor Julian Perry Robinson with the additional participation of Dr Paul Nightingale.

WP7.  Issues of goal-setting, socio-technical calibration and assessment  

7a. How do participants in geoengineering discourses understand and use, in relation to geoengineering, concepts such as ‘reversibility’, ‘experiment’, ‘stability’, ‘resilience’ and ‘robustness’, which have previously been articulated in relation to very different technological choices?

7b. How might parties establish targets or ‘success’ criteria for any action we might take via geoengineering or by other means of mitigation, and what are the distribution of risks and benefits associated with each? For example, how might parties determine the level of CO2 at which atmospheric scrubbing should cease?  Do pre-industrial levels have any significance as a target?

7c. Dissatisfaction with traditional cost-benefit analysis has prompted various methodological innovations. Yet these are still typically problematic in their handling of intractable uncertainties. The specific value of these methods in assessing geoengineering project proposals will be explored in the context of broader ‘precautionary’ approaches to emerging technologies. This work package will ask which modes for implementing precaution can strike an appropriate balance between prudence on consequences, realism over associated uncertainties and accountability and robustness on the part of the eventual technology strategies?

The work will be carried out in an Oxford collaboration between Prof Julian Savulescu (Institute for Science and Ethics) and Prof Steve Rayner (InSIS). 

Integrative and engagement activity for this set of work packages

Stakeholder workshops, combined with in-depth interviews, to explore these issues will be held in China, India, Africa and Brazil. The InSIS Oxford team will develop the programme for each workshop with the twin aims of pursuing key issues on a comparative basis and eliciting unique governance issues and arrangements in that world region. They will also draw on the independently funded pilot Asian workshop organised in Singapore before the project’s start.

WP8. Geoengineering as a distinct set of socio-technical governance challenges

The final work-package will be integrative of the work done under work packages 4-7 and draw also on relevant parts of the Integrated Assessment of Geoengineering Project. It will use this synthesis and updating as the basis for scenario and other engagement exercises with researchers, policymakers, industrial partners and civil society organisations. The aim will be to open up debate and assess possible governance options. The work package's main activities will be:

Potential mechanisms and processes. In the light of the work under this programme, what legal and regulatory gaps exist and what international machinery would be best placed to develop and implement a regulatory framework? How will this relate to informal, bottom-up, networked governance? What diversity is this likely to be encountered en route and how might that be accommodated? What balance might be struck between diversity, efficacy and coherence? How will these factors play out in our exemplary jurisdictions? The work will be led by Prof Steve Rayner and carried out by the principals in each team. The work will include the re-analysis of documents and debates on geoengineering governance in our exemplary jurisdictions in the light of developments over the period of the study, which we see as likely to be an important one for the developing of new positions and machinery.

Integrative and engagement activity for this set of work packages

Stakeholder scenarios workshop. Scenario building exercise with policymakers, commercial interests and civil society organisations to explore, in the light of this research, how changes in the environment for managing climate change may occur, what range of alternatives and socio-economic trade-offs might be opened up to debate, and which pathways for climate management are more likely to succeed in what circumstances? These will feed into:

Closing conference. This conference will concentrate on bringing together the methodological and substantive lessons that will have been learned from this research, focusing on four sets of questions:

  • What have we learned that might contribute to the assessment and governance of geoengineering experimentation and deployment?
  • What are the emerging geopolitics of these issues, and in particular the possible impacts on stability, security, and economic and technological capacities? 
  • What guidelines on governance and regulation might be offered and what institutional machinery might be required? 
  • What continuing role can research play in the analysis of the choices for geoengineering in the context of efforts for mitigation and adaptation to climate change?