«ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH OF THE FEDERAL MINISTRY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, NATURE CONSERVATION, BUILDING AND NUCLEAR SAFETY Project No. (FKZ) 3711 11101 ...»
A definition of geoengineering carries political and social implications. Identifying an activity as geoengineering associates it with these concerns and may consequently label it as negative or controversial. This could be a desired or unwelcome effect. For instance, addressing the “moral hazard” of stifling efforts to address emissions reductions 5 could also be part of the definition’s objective.
Without a clear notion of the political objectives and regulatory purpose, proposing a regulatory definition could in essence put the cart before the horse. This study therefore aims at defining geoengineering for specific regulatory purposes while considering the potential interests in doing so.
4.2 Existing definitions Contemporary definitions share commonalities, although there is no standard or uniform use. 6 Geoengineering terminology has evolved over time along with the concept. Proposals for deliberate climate engineering emerged as early as 1877, although the term geoengineering as commonly used today first arose in the 1970s in reference to carbon dioxide capture from fossil See e.g. Lin (2009) 14; Keith (2000) 276.
See e.g. overview of selected definitions on Williamson et al (2012) 82-84.
7 Williamson et al (2012) 21, citing N. Shaler (1877).
Options and Proposals for the International Governance of Geoengineering fuel-based power plants and injection into deep ocean waters 8, entering the mainstream in the 1990s. 9 Geoengineering is the most common term of reference, but others such as “climate remediation” or “climate engineering” are alternatively applied to the same concept. 10 One explanation has been that the use of “engineering” suggests the intentional application of techniques. 11 These alternative terms may perhaps be viewed as “softer” and avoid the association with high risk technological hubris that may accompany geoengineering.
Typically, geoengineering techniques are subdivided into overarching categories of either carbon dioxide removal (CDR) or solar radiation management (SRM). 12 The CDR category includes techniques that are intended to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and therefore one of the main contributors to climate change. CDR techniques involve two steps: removal of CO2 from the atmosphere and subsequent long-term storage of the captured CO2 in order to take it out of circulation for a climatically relevant period. 13 Several techniques are being discussed for each step. 14 SRM techniques aim at changing the earth’s energy balance by reducing the incidence and subsequent absorption of short-wave solar radiation. 15 Even so, there is no consensus as to the full scope of activities that ought to be included under these categories and as geoengineering, and a number remain subject to debate. In one example of debated geoengineering techniques, afforestation and reforestation to use forests as carbon sinks, is considered a form of CDR by some, but not others. 16 One explanation is that forestry methods should instead be categorized as mitigation or sinks, perhaps for use in mechanisms such as REDD+. 17 Likewise, carbon capture and storage (CCS) has been labeled geoengineering, 18 but other interpretations exclude emissions captured from point sources, making a distinction between capture of carbon dioxide pre- and post-release into the atmosphere and where the latter qualifies as CDR. 19 This distinction for CCS attempts to draw a line between mitigation, reducing the generation of greenhouse gas emissions, and 8 Marchetti (1976). For further detail on the history of climate geoengineering and weather modification see Keith (2000); Czarnecki (2008).
9 Keith (2000) 248.
10 See e.g. Bipartisan Policy Center (2011); Gordon (2010).
11 Rickels et al (2011) 1.
For overviews and details on the concept and science of the various geoengineering techniques see Royal Society (2009); Rickels et al (2011); UBA (2011); US GAO (2011); Williamson et al (2012).
Williamson et al (2012) 54.
Cf. UBA (2011) 18).
UBA (2011) 9; Williamson et al (2012) 8.
See e.g. NAS (1992); Rickels et al (2011); as opposed to Royal Society (2009); also UBA (2011) 18 (footnote) and 23;
Williamson et al (2012) 23-24, 84.
See e.g. NAS (1992); Keith and Dowlatabadi (1992); as opposed to Royal Society (2009).
See e.g. CBD Decision X/33 (2010); Royal Society (2009); Keith (2000).
Options and Proposals for the International Governance of Geoengineering geoengineering, reducing pre-existing atmospheric concentrations. 20 Another reason for CCS’s possible exclusion is due to greater acceptance of the technology, which is on the verge becoming an established and commercially viable alternative application for industrial enhanced oil recovery, and has been introduced in the KP’s CDM (see section on CCS below section 5.1.7). These examples illustrate that there are geoengineering techniques that in principle may fit the common definitional elements of geoengineering, as discussed in section 4, but which are sought by some to be excluded from categorisation as geoengineering.
Despite divergences and a lack of standardized form, the majority of existing geoengineering definitions exhibit key characteristics and share the same primary elements of activity, purpose, intent, and scale.
4.3 Activity The subject of the definition is the activity or activities that qualify geoengineering. This subject can be framed broadly or narrowly. Existing definitions frame the activity through terminology that includes, inter alia, “interventions,” “options,” “efforts,” and “manipulations.” 21 Further narrowing attributes and modifying prepositional phrases are commonly provided to link the subject to its purpose, such as with “manipulation of climate forcings,” “modification of the Earth’s climate systems,” or “steps to alter the climate.”22 Dissecting this element may appear to be an academic or linguistic exercise, yet a strict interpretation has the potential to significantly restrict or expand the definitional scope, whether intentionally or otherwise. For example, a “branch of science” 23 could suggest activities restricted to research rather than other purposes, e.g. commercial, or restricted to research rather than deployment. “Proposals” 24 could similarly imply a more preliminary stage of progress. Defining geoengineering as “technologies” 25 could denote a highly engineered and technical approach that might exclude less technical methods such as forestation or enhanced weathering.
In the same way, this framing of the activity can have political or societal subtexts. By framing geoengineering as research or as proposals, one connotation is that the activity is not widely deployed, and thus seemingly under a greater degree of control. Likewise, by framing as science, a resulting implication is that activities are outside of the realm of commercial interests and private initiatives which may be viewed as less controllable and constituting higher risk. The question of whether and how to address research activities through a definition is also relevant for the “intent” element of the definition.
Using the broad categories of CDR or SRM as the identified activities could potentially limit application as well. While the “C” in CDR focuses on removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it may theoretically be possible to remove other greenhouse gases, e.g. methane See Keith (2000).
See e.g. Williamson et al (2012); NAS (1992); Royal Society (2009); IPCC glossary for AR3, entry „geoengnieering“ at http://www.grida.no/publications/other/ipcc_tar/ Keith and Dowlatabadi (1992); Gordon (2010); Asilomar Conference Report (2010).
Australian Academy of Sciences (2010).
IPCC (2007); Bipartisan Policy Center (2011).
Options and Proposals for the International Governance of Geoengineering or NOx. On a similar note, specifying removal of gases from the “atmosphere” can distinguish capture of emissions pre- and post-release, a point of dispute, as noted.
4.4 Intent The element of intent serves to distinguish geoengineering techniques from activities that may have a sizeable, yet inadvertent, effect on the global climate. The majority of geoengineering definitions indicate a level of intent, often using the terms “deliberate” or “intentional.” 26 The purpose of including intent as a requirement is to be exclusive, eliminating activities where the resulting climate impacts are cumulative and indirect.
Intent is also closely linked to the element of purpose (see section 4.5) and could in theory be applied to exclude climate-warming activities. However, it is not clear why both intent and purpose are used in some geoengineering definitions. It is difficult to imagine many scenarios where a wide-scale, global cooling effect is performed unintentionally.
A regulatory definition has to consider (a) whether climate impacts that are incidental or secondary are of a similar nature and concern as where impacts are the principle objectives;
and (b) if so, whether it is desirable to govern these activities within the same framework as methods applied with the sole purpose of combating anthropogenic climate change or its effects. In this respect, “intent” is also relevant for addressing research activities. Presumably the main intention of research is to find out about the workings and impacts of potential geoengineering techniques, rather than to actually implement them and cause such impacts.
On the other hand, research would lay the necessary groundwork for potential subsequent geoengineering activities. In addition, while modelling and small-scale field experiments are unlikely to fulfil the “scale” element of a definition, large field trials could reach such scale and have impacts similar to deployment. Against this background, does the “intent” element merely refer to the activity as such, or would it also cover the intention to lay the groundwork for future activities that could be performed to counteract the effects of climate change? This problem is also closely connected to the “purpose” element.
From a legal perspective, indicating involvement of intent does not fully address a requisite state of mind. As outlined, actions that are undertaken deliberately can have a side effect of impacting the climate, but be performed for unrelated reasons. However, would knowledge or awareness of climatic impacts qualify as sufficient intent to be deemed geoengineering? For example, the cumulative aerosol emissions from fossil fuel-based power plants result in significant radiative effects and changes to carbon dioxide uptake. 27 Could these be qualified as geoengineering because the radiative effects are known and similar to SRM techniques? It could be argued that with current knowledge about climate change, a state allowing the cumulative emissions from fossil fuels at this scale must be deemed to know about their radiative effects, and continuing to allow them in the knowledge of their radiative effects amounts to intention. However, the primary purpose would be energy production, not climate cooling. The language in existing definitions and the evidently close link between intention and purpose of an activity, would indicate that the level of intent required by geoengineering See e.g. Royal Society (2009); Gordon (2010); Bipartisan Policy Center (2011); MacCracken (2009); Keith (2000).
See Mahowald, Natalie. Aerosol Indirect Effect on Biogeochemical Cycles and Climate. Science 334, 794 (2011);
“Schwefel gegen Treibhausgas”, Sueddeutsche Zeitung v. 06.07.2011, http://www.sueddeutsche.de/wissen/klimawandel-schwefel-gegen-treibhausgas-1.1116608.
Options and Proposals for the International Governance of Geoengineering is specific. In other words, the actor responsible for execution of geoengineering activities does so with the specific purpose of causing a particular outcome.
In addition, where the international level addressed states, as it for the very most part does, it is highly unusual and also difficult in practice to refer to the intention of states for normative purposes. The definition of “environmental modification techniques" in the ENMOD Convention refers to the “deliberate” manipulation of natural processes, but it has never been applied and thus tested in practice (see section 5.1.2). States are abstractions that do not have a state of mind like human beings, and attributing a “will” to a state might not only be difficult, but also not useful in for a specific governance purpose.