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The Oxford Principles

Brief History of the Principles*

The Oxford Principles of geoengineering governance were originally authored in 2009 by Steve Rayner, Tim Kruger and Julian Savulescu of the Oxford Geoengineering Programme, together with Catherine Redgwell (University College London) and Nick Pidgeon (University of Cardiff).

In December 2009 these principles were submitted to UK House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee enquiry on “The Regulation of Geoengineering”.  The Committee endorsed the principles and recommended that they be developed further.  In its official response to the Committee’s report, the UK government likewise endorsed the principles.  This endorsement is the only official national-level policy statement on geoengineering in the world to date and represents an important step forward in ensuring that research into  geoengineering is carried out in a responsible manner.

They also formed the basis of principles agreed to at a gathering of geoengineering researchers in Asilomar, California in March 2010.  The Asilomar Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies was modelled after a conference held in the same location in 1975 which brought together a new scientific community in the emerging field of recombinant DNA to discuss the potential dangers and implications of their research and to draw up voluntary guidelines to ensure safety.

The Principles 

Principle 1: Geoengineering to be regulated as a public good

While the involvement of the private sector in the delivery of a geoengineering technique should not be prohibited, and may indeed be encouraged to ensure that deployment of a suitable technique can be effected in a timely and efficient manner, regulation of such techniques should be undertaken in the public interest by the appropriate bodies at the state and/or international levels.

Principle 2: Public participation in geoengineering decision-making

Wherever possible, those conducting geoengineering research should be required to notify, consult, and ideally obtain the prior informed consent of, those affected by the research activities. The identity of affected parties will be dependent on the specific technique which is being researched - for example, a technique which captures carbon dioxide from the air and geologically sequesters it within the territory of a single state will likely require consultation and agreement only at the national or local level, while a technique which involves changing the albedo of the planet by injecting aerosols into the stratosphere will likely require global agreement.

Principle 3: Disclosure of geoengineering research and open publication of results

There should be complete disclosure of research plans and open publication of results in order to facilitate better understanding of the risks and to reassure the public as to the integrity of the process. It is essential that the results of all research, including negative results, be made publicly available.

Principle 4: Independent assessment of impacts

An assessment of the impacts of geoengineering research should be conducted by a body independent of those undertaking the research; where techniques are likely to have transboundary impact, such assessment should be carried out through the appropriate regional and/or international bodies.  Assessments should address both the environmental and socio-economic impacts of research, including mitigating the risks of lock-in to particular technologies or vested interests.

Principle 5: Governance before deployment

Any decisions with respect to deployment should only be taken with robust governance structures already in place, using existing rules and institutions wherever possible.