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Climate change is among the world's most important problems, and solutions based on emission cuts or adapting to new climates remain elusive. One set of proposals receiving increasing attention among scientists and policymakers is 'solar geoengineering', (also known as solar radiation modification) which would reflect a small portion of incoming sunlight to reduce climate change. Evidence indicates that this could be effective, inexpensive, and technically feasible, but it poses environmental risks and social challenges. Governance will thus be crucial. In The Governance of Solar Geoengineering, Jesse L. Reynolds draws on law, political science, and economics to show how solar geoengineering is, could, and should be governed. The book considers states' incentives and behavior, international and national law, intellectual property, compensation for possible harm, and non-state governance. It also recommends how solar geoengineering could be responsibly researched, developed, and - if appropriate - used in ways that would improve human well-being and ensure sustainability.
Because of its transboundary effects and because states will be the primary actors, large-scale solar geoengineering and its governance are matters of international relations. The divergent problem structures among the responses to climate change help explain extant and likely action. Abatement and negative emissions technologies are aggregate effort global public goods and consequently undersupplied. Solar geoengineering would be a single best effort and a mutual restraint global public good, implying that it might be oversupplied. Uni- or minilateral deployment would be a problem if it were premature or contrary to the international community’s consensus. Solar geoengineering could pose other challenges to international relations such as legitimate decision-making, potential disagreements, cost-sharing, and security risks. Its sudden and sustained termination would have severe negative environmental impacts, but the probability of this is uncertain and may be low. Some economists have explicitly modeled states as rational actors to understand, explain, and predict their behavior in this domain. Given the approach’s limitations, these results should be interpreted with caution.
Because of its transboundary effects and because states will be the primary actors, large-scale solar geoengineering and its governance are matters of international law. This is the first of four chapters that consider rules from custom, treaty, and principles as well as international organizations. Although there are no international instruments that are legally binding, in force, and specific to solar geoengineering, international law provides both a substantial extant governance framework and a foundation upon which future norms, rules, procedures, and institutions specific to solar geoengineering could be built. This chapter introduces how international law operates and discusses several general international legal principles that would guide its interpretation and development with respect to solar geoengineering. It describes one source of binding international law – that of states’ customary behavior – and what it might mean for solar geoengineering, emphasizing procedural obligations. The chapter reviews some relevant nonbinding multilateral environmental agreements and activities of intergovernmental organizations, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This brief final chapter offers some closing observations concerning solar geoengineering. Environmentalism is a diverse domain of thought, and its central norms – such as whether humans’ ideal role is treading as lightly as possible or being stewards of managed nature – are sometimes in tension. Solar geoengineering lies, in many ways, astride this division and its controversy should not be surprising. Yet my central concern is that the solar geoengineering discourse is unduly driven by intuition and ideology instead of empiricism and rationality. The seeming neglect and possible dismissal of solar geoengineering is a gamble that emissions abatement, adaptation, and negative emissions technologies will be sufficient to prevent dangerous climate change. Given the stakes, solar geoengineering should be taken seriously, including through governance that facilitates its responsible research, development, and – if warranted – use.
Because of its transboundary effects and because states will be the primary actors, large-scale solar geoengineering and its governance are matters of international law. This is the final of four chapters that consider international legal rules, here those that fall outside the previous chapters’ scopes. Multilateral agreements govern activities and impacts in areas beyond national jurisdiction, including Antarctica, outer space, and the oceans. The comprehensive UN Convention on the Law of the Sea governs solar geoengineering that would take place in the marine environment or would likely result in deleterious effects there. The parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, a far-reaching agreement, have issued three nonbinding decisions concerning geoengineering, the only such negotiated consensuses from representatives of most countries. The Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques proscribes solar geoengineering's hostile use. Among the four major international legal forums that help resolve disputes in broad ranges of issues, the UN Security Council could address problematic or contentious solar geoengineering.
Existing norms, rules, and institutions seem insufficient to govern solar geoengineering in the long term. This chapter recommends additional and feasible measures to help ensure that it is researched, developed, and – if appropriate – used in ways that improve human well-being, are sustainable, and are consistent with widely shared norms. This will be challenging for reasons such as political contestation, conflicting desires for early governance and the reduction of uncertainty, and the endeavor's speculative nature. The suggestions are divided into rough stages of indoor and small-scale outdoor research, large-scale outdoor research, and deployment. The suggested forms of governance are norms, standards, and best practices; cooperation among nonstate actors; institutionally affiliated committees; state law; international institutions, including one dedicated to solar geoengineering; and – most speculatively – a multilateral agreement. Among governance's functions are reducing uncertainty and environmental risks, synthesis and assessment of results, public engagement, and preventing premature implementation, international tensions, and harmful abatement displacement.
Because of its transboundary effects and because states will be the primary actors, large-scale solar geoengineering and its governance are matters of international law. This is the third of four chapters that consider international legal rules, here regarding human rights. The chapter introduces international human rights law and how it relates to the environment and climate change. It reviews and critiques the limited literature on human rights and solar geoengineering. The remainder considers the issues in four ways. First, solar geoengineering is presently being explored as scientific research, for which international human rights law has provisions for the researcher and the potential beneficiaries of resulting knowledge. Second, outdoor research may affect people as research subjects, for whom international human rights law provides some protections. Third, procedural human rights to information, participation in public affairs, and legal remedies are widely recognized. Finally, the international law of substantive human rights such as those to health, to an adequate standard of living, to be free from hunger, and to life could inform solar geoengineering governance.
This chapter considers the research, development, and implementation of solar geoengineering by nonstate actors and their governance by intellectual property policies. Although some observers are concerned that nonstate actors could deploy it, states will probably retain control over operational decision-making regarding large-scale outdoor tests and implementation. At the same time, commercial entities will play roles – most likely as contractors in public procurement – as providers and innovators of goods and services for solar geoengineering activities. A leading means through which states govern nonstate actors in innovative domains is policies for intellectual property, particularly patents. This chapter reviews the current landscape of patents related to solar geoengineering and the social challenges that such intellectual property could pose. It comments on others’ proposals for intellectual property policies specific to solar geoengineering and also recommends one. Importantly, the suggested "research commons," which is centered on a system of patent pledges, does not require state action and could arise bottom-up among researchers and other nonstate actors.
The most widespread – and arguably influential – concern regarding solar geoengineering has been that it would harmfully displace emissions abatement. Notably, there was a similar objection to adaptation, although one no longer hears it. Moral hazard and risk compensation offer imperfect analogies, and the empirical evidence for their magnitudes is mixed. Public opinion studies that ask people how they would respond to solar geoengineering consistently do not imply abatement displacement and often point toward the reverse, in which solar geoengineering increases support for abatement. The chapter identifies four genuine hazards regarding the relationships among the responses to climate change. Notably, all four are challenges to governance in general and are not limited to climate change policy. These imply some, albeit limited, policy options to reduce abatement displacement. Linkages between international abatement and solar geoengineering policies have some potential. I suggest that the abatement displacement concern is widespread for reasons largely unrelated to reducing climate change and its negative impacts, but instead is grounded in political coalitions and worldviews
Solar geoengineering is presently being researched through indoor work and outdoor experiments without potential transboundary impacts. Existing national and subnational legislation and common law govern such activities, including for their environmental risks, and is an essential component of the existing governance framework within which solar geoengineering is developing. To offer a case study, this chapter reviews applicable American law. The United States was chosen because its environmental legal regime is among the most elaborate and influential, and because solar geoengineering research is presently moving forward most rapidly there. The text considers three major pieces of federal environmental legislation: the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Liability for harm, which is found in the common law of torts, is briefly introduced. Thereafter, the chapter describes relevant laws regarding weather modification and marine pollution, as well as a federal geoengineering bill. A salient question throughout this concerns the extraterritorial application of US law.
Because of its transboundary effects and because states will be the primary actors, large-scale solar geoengineering and its governance are matters of international law. This is the second of four chapters that consider international legal rules, here regarding the climate and the atmosphere. Climate change is, and solar geoengineering would be, foremost atmospheric phenomena. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its protocols – the central legal regime for international cooperation to limit climate change and its impacts – offer surprisingly limited guidance for solar geoengineering. However, the regime could provide an institutional site for future multilateral governance. Some provisions of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (and their protocols), which regulate substances that contribute to stratospheric ozone depletion and to acid rain, respectively, would be applicable, depending on circumstances. The International Law Commission has approved Draft Guidelines on the Protection of the Atmosphere, one of which addresses activities aimed at its intentional large-scale modification.
Governance includes nonstate actors and nonlegal instruments. Nonstate governance – that which is developed, implemented, and/or enforced by nonstate actors – can fill roles that state law cannot or does so poorly. This chapter considers the extent to which nonstate actors do, could, and should contribute to solar geoengineering governance. It introduces key concepts of nonstate governance. The extant governance that is specific to solar geoengineering is largely nonstate. This is particularly evident in the development, influence, and apparent compliance with multiple sets of principles, such as the Oxford principles. Notably, for the most part, these sets substantively agree. The chapter closes with an analysis of nonstate governance’s potential. It concludes that nonstate governance should contribute because solar geoengineering’s characteristics – such as technically complexity, dynamism, reliance upon experts’ knowledge, transboundary impacts, and researchers' shared yet undifferentiated reputational sensitivity – are favorable to nonstate governance, while states are taking no significant steps toward governance.
Solar geoengineering holds the potential for both benefit and harm. Actors such as states could ask ex ante for assurances of compensation, possibly as a precondition for not opposing the activity, or demand ex post compensation for actual or claimed harm. Legal rules could indicate that those who conducted or approved an activity would be liable to pay damages. There could be a basis – at least in principle – in customary international law for state liability for transboundary harm caused by solar geoengineering that was contrary to international law. Although space-based solar geoengineering is presently prohibitively expensive, states would be strictly liable for harm arising from it. Compensation for other potential harm would face substantial political, institutional, and theoretical challenges, including what damages to compensate, the injurers’ and victims’ identities, and mechanisms and reasons for securing compensation. While recognizing states’ strong resistance to compensation, the chapter suggests an international compensation fund for harm from large-scale outdoor solar geoengineering research and offers initial thoughts regarding that from deployment.
Greenhouse gas emissions abatement, negative emissions technologies, and adaptation are not, and most likely will not, be enough to prevent dangerous climate change and its deleterious impacts on humans, other species, and ecosystems. Some scientists and others are increasingly considering and researching solar geoengineering, which would reflect or block some of the sun's incoming solar radiation, as a potential complementary response. This introductory chapter offers an initial explanation of climate change and solar geoengineering, including its leading proposed techniques of stratospheric aerosol injection, marine cloud brightening, and cirrus cloud thinning. Solar geoengineering should be taken seriously, as its governance is both important and challenging. Among the major challenges is that solar geoengineering presents a high-stakes risk-risk tradeoff under conditions of great uncertainty. Another is that although earlier governance can be more effective, little is then known of such an emerging technology’s salient characteristics. The chapter outlines the topics covered by the remainder of the book and makes the author’s prior assumptions explicit.