Climate Engineering: Benefits, Risks, Governance Challenges

Ted Parson

Climate engineering (CE) - intentional, global-scale modification of the environment to offset some of the effects of elevated greenhouse gases - appears able to reduce climate-change risks beyond what is possible with mitigation and adaptation alone, including enabling integrated climate-response strategies that reduce risks in ways not otherwise achievable. Moreover, large-scale use of CE is probably necessary to achieve prudent climate-change limits, including the Paris targets of limiting global heating to 1.5 to 2.0°C. CE cannot replace mitigation or adaptation, which remain essential to limiting climate risks. And CE in its various forms, both large-scale atmospheric carbon removal and sunlight-scattering solar geoengineering, poses novel, substantial, and uncertain risks.

The treatment of CE thus far in climate research, assessment, scenarios, and policy debates has been gravely inadequate. In view of the prospects CE poses for great benefit or harm, it urgently requires expanded systematic research, and serious critical examination in climate-change assessments and scenarios - despite the challenges such examination will pose to many comforting, widely shared presumptions of climate policy debates. The prospect of CE also poses acute challenges to international decision-making and institutions - whether the aim is to use it competently, prudently, and legitimately as part of an effective strategic climate response, or to make an effective and enforceable decision to renounce it. Having an informed capability to deal with domestic and international policy challenges related to CE when they arise - which they will - requires urgent attention to its capabilities, risks, and governance needs.

Speaker: Ted Parson, UCLA School of Law

Wednesday, 01/17/18

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