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Governing Geoengineering through Environmental Assessment

Generously funded by:

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)

Meet the research team:

Neil Craik: School of Environment, Enterprise and Development (SEED); University of Waterloo

Jason Blackstock: University College London

Project description:

There is a growing recognition that current global action on climate change mitigation and adaptation will not be sufficient to prevent serious and potentially catastrophic harm to the global environment. One response to these policy failures is proposals for the deliberate, large-scale manipulation of the Earth’s environment to counteract these impacts, referred to as geoengineering. Geoengineering is fraught with scientific and technological uncertainty, deep ethical divisions respecting its use and no clear governance institutions to oversee the accountable and legitimate development and deployment of proposed geoengineering activities. There is, as a consequence, a tremendous need to consider appropriate governance mechanisms that can ensure that geoengineering research and deployment is conducted in an environmentally sound and democratically responsive manner.

It is anticipated that international environmental assessment (EA) processes will form a central part of the governance framework for geoengineering, however to date no academic or policy attention has been given to the adequacy of international EA rules to address geoengineering proposals. This research proposal seeks to address this policy gap through a comprehensive examination of the international legal duties to conduct EAs for geoengineering proposals. The proposed research will include detailed examinations of particular geoengineering technologies and their associated potential impacts, in order to develop an understanding of the nature of the environmental information generated, and the possible environmental governance regimes triggered by the proposals. Because a central premise of the project is that EA processes are dependent upon the broader governance context in which they form a part, the research assesses the role of EA in contributing to the environmental and social goals of the regimes.