«ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH OF THE FEDERAL MINISTRY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, NATURE CONSERVATION, BUILDING AND NUCLEAR SAFETY Project No. (FKZ) 3711 11101 ...»
4.5 Purpose Existing definitions typically identify the purpose of geoengineering as seeking to counteract anthropogenic climate change, to counteract climate change’s effects, or both. The purpose element in a definition differentiates application of methods for geoengineering from other functions.
Definitions of geoengineering do not generally require precise temperatures or levels of atmospheric carbon as objectives - although it might be considered implicit that the desired state of the climate and the aim of geoengineering is a state of pre-industrial carbon levels.
Practically speaking, there is little rationale to prescribe such a specific target climate level to achieve or maintain, especially given the inability of current techniques to target such an exact mark. CDR techniques, through removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, address both the physical cause of anthropogenic climate change (but not emissions as their cause) and, in doing so, its impacts. SRM, on the other hand, mitigates the symptoms of climate change by altering radiation levels and producing cooling, but does not address the root cause and leaves atmospheric greenhouse gas levels unchanged. An effective definition, particularly for regulatory purposes, should be broad enough to include both CDR and SRM and measures combating both the problem of climate change and resulting warming. It could be a separate and subsequent consideration whether the same legal consequences apply to both categories.
A further aspect is how geoengineering relates to mitigation and adaptation as established categories of climate efforts. How geoengineering is differentiated from mitigation is not always expressly stated or acknowledged, as shown by CCS between emission capture pre-and post-release. 28 Another arguable distinction is the imagined scale of activity. For adaptation, general understanding suggests that adaptation measures make modifications and preparations to manage the consequences of warming. Geoengineering could be distinguished from adaptation as it seeks to counteract planetary warming, whether through emissions removal or cooling, rather than treating it as a given. Distinguishing between these categories of climate efforts may be of practical import for application under climate-related legal frameworks and funding schemes. However, this question is a matter for the interpretation of those rules that draw a distinction between adaptation and mitigation. It does not have to be addressed or resolved in the definition of geoengineering.
In addition to the distinction from mitigation and adaptation, geoengineering might also have to be distinguished from weather modification. One differentiating factor may be the scale of time, whereas “weather” refers to short-cycle conditions and “climate” indicates longer-term See Keith (2000).
Options and Proposals for the International Governance of Geoengineering patterns. 29 Other distinctions could relate to the geographical impact: local or regional weather vs. global climate, or to purpose, whereby geoengineering seeks to modify the climate as a response to anthropogenic climate change. 30 The objective of geoengineering is widely understood as combating climate change, however a critical question for answer is whether using the same techniques for alternative purposes would still be considered geoengineering. First, would using a technique that is otherwise considered geoengineering for a purpose other than climate cooling still fall under the definition? For instance, biochar can serve the purpose of carbon sequestration and potentially also of soil enhancement. The purpose of an ocean fertilisation technique or activity might be enhancing fishery yields. Secondly, can large-scale and deliberate climate warming be geoengineering? In the former Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s, for instance there were recurring proposals for warming to create a more temperate climate in the north and for removal of polar ice cover. 31 Theoretically, geoengineering methods could be applied for a variety of economic, commercial, social, or military objectives that are not related to anthropogenic climate change impacts or regulation. Requiring a narrow purpose and determining whether this element is fulfilled might be pose problems. As with intent, purpose may be difficult to prove in practice when turning on the subjective aim of the actor, rather than the objective design of the technology.
On the other hand, unfeasible attempts at cooling the earth may also nevertheless have deleterious impacts.
Purpose might be of lesser significance as a standalone element. Unless the activity is performed at a scale of sufficient magnitude to either impact the climate or to create adverse effects, the same perceived risks are not present and concern and interest in control dissipates.
4.6 Scale Conventional definitions identify geoengineering as “large” in scale. 32 This element relates more to the magnitude of impacts, but also to the size of the efforts, although altering the climate would more than likely necessarily entail a sizeable level of activity. “Large” scale may be of a planetary, but also regional, degree. Recently, proposals have been issued for specific application of geoengineering techniques in the Arctic region in order to slow polar ice melt. 33 The scale element helps distinguish geoengineering efforts from more minor activities affecting the climate, such as painting rooftops white to increase albedo or localized tree planting. Such activities could potentially be classified as geoengineering but are unlikely to carry the high risks and potential far-reaching impacts of larger-scale activities. For these reasons, and given that impacts would likely be more localized, small-scale are activities are also less likely to be desirable within the same scope of regulation as large-scale activities. 34 See e.g. www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/noaa-n/climate/climate_weather.html.
See Keith (2000) 250: “Weather and climate modification therefore had two of the three defining attributes (Section 2.1) of geoengineering— scale and intent–but not the third, as it was not a countervailing measure.” Keith (2000); Williamson et al (2012) 30.
See e.g. Keith (2000)247; NAS (1992) 433; Royal Society (2010) 1.
See Aldous (2012).
Cf. Ginzky (2011) 475.
Options and Proposals for the International Governance of Geoengineering However current definitions mostly fail to specify a standard of measurement for what is “large.” In particular for regulatory purposes, stating “large-scale” demands a further definition, line, or threshold past which an activity would qualify as geoengineering. The primary constraints to offering this descriptor lies in the dissimilar natures of various geoengineering technologies, as well as the lack of knowledge of about which impacts would occur at which scale. The standard by which one technique may be large enough to have a sizeable impact on the climate, environment, or health is unlikely to be equal to the standard for another technique, nor even quantifiable by the same standard of measurement. Using the approach of listing individual geoengineering technologies as part of a definition could correspondingly apply individual standards of measurement. Parson and Keith propose two technical thresholds for SRM, based on the strength of the solar radiation perturbation. Interventions above the first threshold should be subject to a moratorium, while those below the second threshold should be generally permitted. However, they explicitly avoid the “hard governance issue that lie in the wide middle”. 35 An activity might have deleterious impacts of concern even before it is performed at a sufficient scale to counteract climate change or its effects. Most techniques can theoretically be performed at a small scale, e.g. placement of a single desert reflector or space panel, injection of one batch of aerosols, dumping one batch of iron or alkaline minerals into the ocean.
Whether there is an interest in regulating at a smaller scale where impacts may be of a lesser degree, and whether small-scale activities might be better dealt with via other mechanisms, has to be addressed in governance considerations.
Another issue of concern could be the relation between drawing the line between small and large scale and the distinction between research and deployment. Prior to wide-scale deployment, small-scale trials are likely to be performed. Drawing a concrete line of scale may have the effect of either permitting or obstructing field experiments, whereas an ill-defined notion leaves room for interpretation. Small-scale may not necessarily be correlated with research, but are more likely to. Where rules or principles are designed for research activities, might lines be drawn based upon subjective purpose and intent, objective size, or other factors? Lastly, where the scale of impacts is of concern, regulatory jurisdiction should not be based on the scale of activity.
4.7 Conclusions While all existing definitions have strengths and weaknesses, the definition developed by an expert group in the impact study for the CBD appears to the most convincing to date: 36 A deliberate intervention in the planetary environment of a nature and scale intended to counteract anthropogenic climate change and/or its impacts.
The definition is concise while including all the essential elements discussed above. It is workable in the sense that guides the necessary further refinements regarding thresholds, measuring etc. However, the definition has weaknesses that would make it insufficient for a regulatory purpose if applied by itself (see further below in this section).
Alternatively, applying a highly broad, inclusive, and multi-purposed definition, one that attempts to cover all techniques that have been considered geoengineering and most of the Parson and Keith (2013) 1279.
Williamson et al (2012) 8. On the wording of the CBD’s 2010 geoengineering decision see Bodle (2010) 315-316.
Options and Proposals for the International Governance of Geoengineering discussed intentions, but that is not appropriate for narrower regulatory or governance
purposes, geoengineering could be preliminarily defined as:
Activities designed and undertaken with the purpose of producing environmental change on a regional or global scale, primarily for counteracting anthropogenic climate change or reducing its warming impacts, through, inter alia, removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere or reducing solar insolation.
The selection of the activity, activity and intervention respectively, are both relatively neutral subjects without significant subtexts or connotations. Activity carries somewhat greater impartiality, as intervention may begin to implicate purpose and intent, and perhaps greater definitional clarity can be achieved by separating out these elements.
On the other hand, the elements are intimately connected. The CBD impact study’s definition captures and uses this connection advantageously, linking the description of the activity with intent, purpose, and scale. As discussed, purpose and intent, while serving to identify the deliberate and man-made nature of the environmental change, fail to stand alone in the absence of scale. On the other hand, scale without purpose or specific intent leaves open the possibility of unintended climate impacts, primarily from anthropogenic warming.
As noted, it is not entirely clear why, applying a strict interpretation, both purpose and intent are needed in a definition. One conceivable rationale is that deliberation signifies the intent of the actor executing the geoengineering method, whereas purpose denotes the primary application of the technique in use. Including both could eliminate a degree of concern over discerning both feasibility of methods and subjective intent. Thus, where applied methods are unsuccessful but used in a manner intended for geoengineering change, or where a technology designed for geoengineering is deployed for an alternative purpose or unintentionally, both scenarios with potential risks and adverse impacts, this two-fold angle captures both cases.
Along this line of thought, specifying activities “designed and undertaken with the purpose of producing environmental change” in the above definition seeks to capture both the intent of the actor and the methodological design. Use of “designed” may also help capture research or trial activities that with the ultimate goal of large-scale environmental change, but that are not deployed applied at that level yet.