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3.3 UNFCCC is binding, but its wording allows for interpreting it as not precluding geoengineering. The few other provisions in the climate regime that could apply to geoengineering, such as Articles 3.1, 3.3, 4.1 and 4.2(a) UNFCCC, are general in wording and normative content. Apart from CCS, the Kyoto Protocol does not address or prohibit geoengineering. There is a thematic overlap with land use change and sinks, as the Kyoto Protocol provides incentives to generate sinks from land-use and forestry projects.

The ENMOD Convention addresses environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects. The definition provided in the treaty would cover geoengineering techniques. However, the ENMOD Convention’s applicability to geoengineering is limited by its material scope (military or other hostile use), its limited number of parties and the lack of practice to draw from. It does not prohibit geoengineering in peacetime nor does it expressly permit it.

Besides international rules provided by specific treaties or regimes, there is minimal common legal ground regarding cross-cutting legal rules and principles that could apply to geoengineering. Customary law provides few rules applicable to all states and all geoengineering concepts. These are the duty to respect the environment, the general obligation to carry out an environmental impact assessment and the rules on state responsibility. The precautionary principle or approach is also of particular relevance. Although there is no consensus on its legal status and content in customary law, it is embedded in several treaties, notably in the operative part of the UNFCCC, which has near universal application including the US. However, the content of these cross-cutting rules is not specific enough to provide clear guidance as to specific geoengineering techniques. In addition, customary rules are subject to and can be derogated from by special rules agreed between states.

The precautionary principle (or: “approach”) is frequently underlying arguments in favour of and against geoengineering. However, there is no uniform formulation or usage for the precautionary principle and its legal status in customary international law has not yet been clearly established, although it has been invoked several times.

Other general principles or concepts such as sustainable development or inter-generational equity also play a role in the considerations and debate on geoengineering. However, from a legal point of view other rules are not universally recognized as legal obligations on states, or their content is too open to provide commonly accepted legal ground of international law relevant to geoengineering.

Options and Proposals for the International Governance of Geoengineering

In legal terms, the mandate of the CBD COP and many international regimes and institutions would allow them to address geoengineering, or some aspects of it, even if they have not done so to date. This raises questions regarding different treaties or institutions potentially competing for addressing geoengineering with overlapping or inconsistent rules or guidance.

Recent developments under the London Convention/Protocol (LC/LP) and the CBD have produced pertinent rules specifically on geoengineering in general or particular techniques.

However, some of these rules have been adopted in the form of decisions by treaty bodies and are not binding in the strict legal sense. At CBD COP10 in 2010, the parties went beyond previous decisions addressing ocean fertilisation and adopted a decision addressing geoengineering in general. Although it is not binding in form or language, CBD COP decision X/33, para 8(w) appears to be the only all-encompassing governance measure at this level to date. Although the language and grammar of decision X/33 are not entirely clear, it does intend to generally restrict geoengineering, subject to three conditions, which are linked to knowledge and governance gaps and uncertainty. In November 2012 CBD COP11 has reaffirmed this decision, without adding new relevant substance or guidance. Under the LC/LP there is a proposal for a binding amendment that could potentially apply to all marine geoengineering techniques. Once listed, an activity would be generally prohibited unless permitted by terms of the listing.

There are several current research projects and programmes regarding geoengineering. Two incidents have recently raised public attention and exemplify some of the governance issues addressed in this paper: In 2011, a planned experiment on the feasibility of aerosol injection as part of the SPICE project was put on hold following public objections. A couple of days ago it emerged that a large-scale ocean fertilisation experiment was conducted off the Canadian coast in the summer of 2012.

8.1.3 Criteria for geoengineering governance

Governance, meant in a broader sense than regulation, is not necessarily restrictive. It can also provide legal certainty and political legitimacy, or fulfil pragmatic functions such as coordination. Yet most geoengineering governance proposals are not explicit about their underlying assumptions and criteria regarding the objectives and functions they seek to address or leave unaddressed.

Geoengineering has particular characteristics that cause particular challenges to international governance. To some extent these may resemble those of other high-risk or controversial technologies such as genetic modified organisms, nuclear power and perhaps nanotechnology.

Yet geoengineering is also different and unique in several respects, including:

• Geoengineering is supposedly a particular and provisional solution to a particular problem. It is conceived as a plan B to mitigation, as an unasked-for fallback option that is not desirable as such, but which could be further explored in order to at least find out whether it is viable as a last resort.

• There is a broad range and diversity of techniques addressed under the term geoengineering. In addition, each technique is quite different depending on which scale we address. The impacts and risks associated with the individual techniques vary. Most techniques become high-risk in terms of physical impacts only when deployed at large scale, and not all may have immediate significant transboundary impacts.

Options and Proposals for the International Governance of Geoengineering

• Uncertainty and on-going technological developments. This applies to climate change as the underlying issue as well as to geoengineering techniques as one potential means to address it. It may be difficult to seek more knowledge about geoengineering without endorsing it or causing a political lock-in effect.

• The distinction between research and deployment. Whether and how to address geoengineering research is a fundamental and cross-cutting problem that occurs for every geoengineering technique and for every potential governance option.

Against this background, geoengineering governance should fulfil the following criteria:

Integrate the precautionary approach: The scientific uncertainties regarding most geoengineering concepts, combined with their purpose of having global impacts and their different transboundary risks, call for a precautionary approach. While this is a central aspect of geoengineering governance, the different views regarding its specific content and its normative anchoring in international law have implications for governance design, e.g. when considering political buy-in.

Avoid negative environmental and health risks and impacts: This is probably the most obvious and self-explanatory purpose of a geoengineering governance structure. Given the factual and scientific uncertainties regarding geoengineering techniques, this criterion is closely linked to the precautionary approach.

Ensure political feasibility and buy-in: A governance framework should aim at bringing on board as many states and other actors as possible, including those states that are likely to be capable and willing of pursuing geoengineering at a relevant large scale. However, if other governance criteria and objectives needed to be unacceptably compromised, then the costs of ensuring participation could be considered to be prohibitive. A related problem would be how to provide incentives for states that are not formally part of the governance regime to nevertheless abide by the main principles.

Prevent undermining or weakening of mitigation efforts (climate context): All proponents of geoengineering stress that it is no substitute for reducing emissions, and that geoengineering proposals are primarily considered as complementary to other efforts to limit human-induced climate change. Nevertheless, there is a plausible “moral hazard” argument that geoengineering does have the potential to obstruct the climate change negotiations and detract from emission reductions. Governance should ensure that geoengineering remains a “plan B” and that geoengineering avoids undermining emission reduction efforts.

Avoid political conflicts and legal disputes, e.g. due to unilateral action: As it is likely that at least some geoengineering concepts could be tested and deployed by a single state, a state capable of doing so might prefer to address geoengineering in its domestic jurisdiction only, and be reluctant to wait for or subject itself to international agreement. However, all states, including all states pursuing geoengineering (research), have an interest in participating in an international governance framework in order to (1) prevent others from engaging in unilateral and uncoordinated geoengineering and (2) avoid international political tensions that are likely to arise from the potential for transboundary impacts of geoengineering. Such political tensions may arise regardless of whether any impacts can be proven to be caused by the geoengineering activities in question. Geoengineering governance should curb this potential for political tension. This objective reinforces the need for political feasibility.

Political legitimacy and acceptance: International governance could provide legitimacy to a states' own policy. A polarised debate, perhaps similar to instances regarding climate change, would make it difficult for a state to adopt and implement any policy on geoengineering.

Options and Proposals for the International Governance of Geoengineering

Transparency of process and geoengineering activities could be one of the means to achieve this end as well as to reduce the risk of political tension.

Co-ordinate science and research: Depending on the particular geoengineering concept, at some stages research activities might need to be coordinated at the international level in order to ensure that data can be correctly attributed to particular experiments and to ensure validity of results. However, this does not necessarily mean that elaborate governance structures are needed at this stage for this particular objective. The science community is self-organising to a large degree. A need for e.g. prior information and co-ordination requirements could arise when field experiments could interfere with each other’s validity. This should be discussed with the scientific community. A further, specific governance problem arises when scientific experiments reach a scale that by itself has the potential to cause significant transboundary impacts.

Allow for flexibility: A governance structure needs to allow for some flexibility in order to be able to react to new developments, because (i) there is scientific uncertainty in geoengineering as well as climate science, and (ii) the public debate and interest at policy level is at the beginning. Flexibility in this sense should maintain an appropriate level of normative legal certainty and clarity.

Suitability for addressing research: Not all criteria developed above are suitable for addressing research. For instance, we suggest that the criterion of ensuring continuing mitigation efforts is not affected by research - perhaps with the exception of funding. Further, it could be explored to what extent the criteria of political buy-in and avoiding political conflict are relevant for research.


Question 1: Do the criteria cover the most important aspects?

Tentative Answer: The criteria appear to address the particular characteristics of geoengineering at this stage. We welcome additional ideas Question 2: Are the criteria equally important?

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