Prudent practice in the engineering of large, public projects calls for rigorous, systematic evaluation of the risks associated with the project design and, in the case of large civil engineering projects, environmental impact statements. The potentially far-reaching consequences of any project meant to alter the global climate system imply the need for a multi-stage assessment, enumerating the immediate and down-stream implications associated with changes in the major climate system components.
This risk framework should inter-compare each climate management-policy option, e.g., candidate geoengineering activities, other mitigation actions such as those described elsewhere in this book, versus inaction. Quantification of the probabilities, uncertainties and related costs (or benefits) of immediate, near- and long-term negative and positive impacts, along with the cost of implementation and long-term maintenance of each option will be needed. The global climate and ecosystems research communities must be called upon to populate this framework with the details necessary to enable well-founded decision-making by international climate management decision-makers.
Furthermore, any risk management framework, especially in the context of climate change, must be periodically re-evaluated to account for the change in risk with time. For example, new information, if aggressively sought, may meaningfully alter the relative uncertainties associated with possible courses of action; changing human behavior alters the potential impacts of inaction. Finally, the complete risk framework will not only incorporate the essential questions regarding the feasibility and risks associated with implementation of the various climate-modifying schemes, but also the risks associated with inaction.
Of course, with even the best possible decision framework, surprises may still be possible. The enormous effort underway within the international scientific community to understand the consequences of human activities has yielded the valuable insight that the earth's climate system is complex and laden with positive and negative feedbacks  . Perturbations to one component of the climate system propagate to the other components in unpredictable ways. Nevertheless, the responsible course dictates that due diligence be applied to the assembly of an integrated risk assessment/risk management framework and that such a framework be utilized in decision-making with such far-reaching consequences.
Was this article helpful?