Governance Issues

The deployment of SRM approaches has been discussed as a means of buying time for society to develop more effective ways to reduce GHG emissions, to avoid having to reduce emissions, and to produce a global cooling within years and decades in order to avert or reduce damage from a "climate emergency" (Lane et al., 2007) such as ice sheet collapse, rapid GHG degassing from melting permafrost, or other abrupt shifts in climate (see Chapter 6). Regardless of the ability of an SRM intervention to effectively buy time or avert crisis, several governance issues are associated with the decision to test or deploy SRM.

Due to the global nature of SRM, and especially considering some of the potential unintended consequences discussed in the preceding subsections, most analyses suggest that some sort of international framework—whether a series of bilateral or global, multilateral treaties—will be needed for governing SRM (e.g., Virgoe, 2009). Currently, no widely agreed-upon international governing body or legal or regulatory framework exists to govern the testing or deployment of SRM methods. Recent conferences on this topic have discussed how such a framework might be developed; the Council on Foreign Relations' Workshop on Unilateral Planetary-Scale Geoengineer-ing (Ricke et al., 2008) suggested the application of standards such as "encapsulation" (the degree to which SRM releases material into the environment) and "reversibility" (the ability to terminate and reverse the effects of SRM) (The Royal Society, 2009), and another recent conference recommended voluntary governance mechanisms and basic principles to guide future geoengineering research (Asilomar Scientific Organizing Committee, 2010), but international endorsement and formal adoption by relevant research institutions and governments have not been undertaken. Because some research groups may be ready to test SRM approaches in the near term, there is also a near-term need to define what kinds of field experiments might be permitted in the near term while a broader regulatory framework is developed. Without a clear international agreement and relevant international and complementary national institutions, the probability of unilateral testing or deployment of SRM is elevated. Such unilateral action could potentially result in international tension, distrust, or even conflict (Virgoe, 2009), which could compromise the physical feasibility of SRM or increase the economic cost (Gardiner, 2010).

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