Launch of Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative
Panel Discussion on Geoengineering
February 16, 2017
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Good morning. I'm Joel Rosenthal, president of the Carnegie Council. I have the privilege of introducing our program this morning.
Today we officially launch the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative, or as it has affectionately become known as, C2G2. "C2G2" sounds futuristic and scientific, but it also sounds friendly and lovable. We believe that serious and accessible should go together.
Carnegie Council is genuinely excited to be hosting this project. We believe that C2G2 serves a vital purpose: connecting and mobilizing actors from many sectors of society including government, business, civil society, academic research, and the media to look at a new reality, the very real possibilities of engineering the climate.
In a political world that is noisy, fragmented, and polarized we launch C2G2 as a counter-narrative where debate is inclusive, civil, fact-based, and rigorous. The spirit of C2G2 is based on mutual learning in a quest to best serve the common good. Our goal is to generate the best ideas and the most useful resources we can, all in the public interest.
We all have a baseline understanding of the challenge in addressing environmental issues. On the one hand, environmental management is an extremely complex problem—so many variables, so many actors—it is a classic collective problem. On the other hand, it is simple: even if one is skeptical of the direst predictions, surely there is a need to protect clean air, clean water, and diminishing natural habitats.
The ethical dimensions to this challenge are straightforward. How do we achieve a balance between economic development and the preservation of the environment? Do we have the right to alter the human relationship to the natural world? How do we serve as stewards of the planet, ensuring a healthy and vibrant environment for generations to follow?
The human capacity to change nature has accelerated in the last century. The atomic revolution, followed by the discovery of the human genome, has given us the means to remake the world. Now we have new technologies to manage carbon emissions and solar radiation, giving us potentially the means to cool the planet.
What should be the duties and obligations that go along with this power? What should be the limitations and constraints? How should we govern ourselves in managing this power? These are fundamentally ethical concerns, matters of human choice and decision. The stakes are enormous.
We have assembled a team of world-renowned climate experts to take these questions and begin to shape a response that can have significant impact on new public policy. Our team is led by Janos Pasztor, senior fellow for this project. Janos is himself an engineer and a climate policy veteran with years of service at the United Nations and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
I'll let Janos say more about the project and the team that is being assembled. But before I give the floor to Simon Nicholson, our collaborator on this project, I just want to thank Janos publicly for his extraordinary vision and leadership in bringing this project to life.
I would also like to thank the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation for their support, especially its executive director, Irene Krarup, who is here with us this morning. They have a vision for this project that animates all of this work.
I also want to thank the Carnegie Council trustees who are present here this morning, especially our immediate past chairman Robert Shaw. Without the support of our trustees in this organization we wouldn't be here. So thank you to all of you.
I also want to thank all of you for coming and spending part of this day with us. The work of this project will depend on a community of people starting with you, so we very much appreciate your being here this morning for the launch of the project.
With that, I am going to turn it over to Simon Nicholson and our panelists. Thank you again for coming.
SIMON NICHOLSON: Good morning, everybody. Let me add my welcome to this event sponsored by the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. My name is Simon Nicholson. I am co-director of a group called The Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment based at American University in Washington, D.C.
We are here to launch this new Carnegie program. As you've heard, it is called the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative (C2G2)—it's going to take a while for that to catch on, Janos, but I like it—headed by Janos Pasztor. Janos has convened this panel as an introduction to provide some background and context before he introduces the new initiative.
With my colleagues here we will introduce the topic of climate engineering or geoengineering. We will talk about some of the lines of scientific inquiry that folks are investigating and give you some of the flavor of the policy and broader public conversations around these emerging, potentially quite potent technologies.
I am joined by Doug MacMartin, who splits his time between Cornell and the California Institute of Technology. Next to Doug is Jane Long, who keeps on telling us that she has retired but remains one of our most important national voices working for science/policy interface. Pablo Suarez is associate director for research and innovation at the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre. Jennifer Morgan, who is joining us via Skype, is executive director of Greenpeace International. Oliver Morton is senior editor at The Economist in London and author of The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World. [Editor's note: See Gernot Wagner's review of this book in the Council's journal Ethics & International Affairs.] And of course we have Janos Pasztor, Carnegie Council senior fellow and executive director of the new Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative.
To begin, Janos has asked that I say just a few definitional words to set the stage.
What is climate engineering or geoengineering? What is our subject matter? This term is an umbrella for a set of imagined technological responses to climate change. We are not talking here about energy transition or the building of seawalls. We are talking about a very different class of technological responses, large-scale interventions and Earth systems that might be at a scale and of a tenor that we have not seen before.
Climate-engineering technologies are typically organized into two different categories. On the one hand, there are technologies to draw down greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and to then hold those gases in long-term storage or put them to beneficial use—these are called "carbon dioxide removal" (CDR) or "greenhouse gas removal" technologies. Or we have technologies to alter the planet's energy balance by reflecting some amount of incoming sunlight back into space or more readily allow outgoing solar radiation to leave the atmosphere.
That first category of carbon dioxide removal technologies—more recently we are talking about negative-emissions technologies—there are lots of ideas floating around in that space.
The most discussed in recent times—those of you in the climate policy space will know this well—has been bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). The idea here is that one would grow biomass, we would turn that biomass into liquid fuel or burn the biomass directly, capture the carbon that comes out of that combustion, and then bury the carbon for long-term storage under the ground.
I say "imagined technologies" because we know we can do all of the pieces of that, but doing that sort of exercise at the scale and across the timespan that is being considered to actually make a meaningful difference in the atmospheric carbon load is something humanity has never taken on before. There are lots of other potential technological options in that carbon dioxide removal space.
The second category contains what are known as "solar radiation management technologies" (SRM). The most-discussed proposals here are the deposition of reflective particles in the upper atmosphere to mimic the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions or the artificial brightening of marine clouds. Again, there are lots of different technological options in this space. There is a great deal to say about these technologies, and I'll leave it to my colleagues to say more.
The one thing that I want to say before I turn to Doug is that there seems to be widespread recognition in the research community now that climate-engineering technologies could be a useful part of a portfolio of responses to climate change. None of these technologies fixes climate change, but they may be a small part potentially of the response.
But with the potential there is also peril. There are risks here, and some of my colleagues will speak to those risks.
What we do know is that in the face of the worsening climate situation the conversation about whether and how to develop climate-engineering technologies is picking up steam. To steer between the promise and the peril is the work of governance, and that is the importance of this new project. For this reason the new Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative is critically important and is being launched at a critically important time.
Let me turn now to Doug to give us a little introduction to some of the lines of scientific inquiry in this space.
DOUGLAS MacMARTIN: Thanks.
[Slide] There is one visual that I actually want to show just to put everything in context and how all these various ideas relate. This is just describing the various options that Simon just mentioned in terms of a portfolio of possible options. I'm not saying any of these are essential, except for the first one.
"Business as usual" would basically be the no-climate policy—burn all the fossil fuels that are in the ground. That is just simply not an option. We absolutely have to cut our carbon emissions as aggressively as possible. None of these other ideas change that.
The issue with that is simply that if we could cut our carbon emissions fast enough to avoid dangerous climate change, then we don't really need to talk about these other options. But if you add up all of the commitments that were made in the Paris Agreement in 2015, that will get us to a world that is probably an order of 3 °C warmer than pre-industrial. The Paris Agreement also basically laid out a threshold of ideally 1.5 °C but definitely less than 2 °C as a threshold for dangerous change.
The question then is: What do you do with that gap?
Obviously, the first step is to look and see if we can close that gap by being more aggressive in cutting emissions. But I think we have to actually recognize that it is plausible that we will not get there.
Carbon dioxide removal—those technologies from a climate science perspective—if you didn't put the CO2 in, or if you put it in and then take it out, that pretty much looks the same. So there is no climate risk there. The issues with those technologies are primarily that they are hard to scale up and are expensive. With the BECCS that Simon mentioned, for example, to make a meaningful dent you have to be pulling gigatons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere every year, or tens of gigatons. So the issue with BECCS is going to be things like diverting land use away from food crops.
The CO2 removal gives you sort of a long-term option of solving the climate problem but over a timescale of generations. The question then would be: If we find ourselves in a world that is at 3 or 4 °C of warming, it is absolutely true that you could cool the planet by putting small particles, aerosols, up into the stratosphere—we know that by observing what happens after volcanic eruptions—but saying you could do that doesn't mean you should do that. But there is at least a plausible role there to say, "It's plausible that that lower path on that plot is less risky than allowing the climate to get to 3 or 4 °C."
I would just say, purely as a plausibility issue, I don't know, for example, where the thresholds are where you destabilize enough Antarctic ice to cause three or four meters of sea level rise, but I would not be very confident in saying we'd avoid that at 3 or 4 °C. It is quite plausible that if you cooled the planet back down to 1.5 or 2 °C that you might avoid some of those serious risks.
I don't think anybody would want to fight climate change by putting things into the stratosphere. It is just a question that we may be better off than not doing it. Where the research has gotten to date, purely on climate models, if you try this on climate models, then basically yes, you could reflect sunlight away; you will cool the planet, you'll cool the planet everywhere. You do not quite compensate for the—if you warm the planet with CO2 and then you cool it with a different mechanism, that doesn't bring you back to where you were. But the climate model results to date show that this is plausible.
As Simon mentioned, there are basically two things in the space of solar geoengineering primarily.
One is to put stuff in the stratosphere. It's not fundamentally hard to do. It's not fundamentally expensive. Basically you fly airplanes up there, you dump a ton of sulfate, and you will cool the planet. If you really wanted to, you could probably do that a few years from now. I'm not saying that's a good idea.
AUDIENCE MEMBER [off-microphone]: Dumping sulfates into the atmosphere seems like a bad idea.
DOUGLAS MacMARTIN: Without understanding it, it's definitely a bad idea.
AUDIENCE MEMBER [off-microphone]: And environmental issues, that's not the only problem that I would have with that. If you're talking to anyone and ask them if they would like some sulfur in the air, they would probably [inaudible].
DOUGLAS MacMARTIN: Let me just address that point right now just a little bit. We currently dump about 100 megatons of sulfate.
AUDIENCE: Who is "we"?
DOUGLAS MacMARTIN: "We" as humanity.
Just for context, humanity currently puts about 100 megatons of sulfate into the lower atmosphere right now. If you put the sulfate higher into the atmosphere, it stays there longer. We are talking about putting in a relatively small amount.
I would agree absolutely. If your first reaction having never heard this before isn't "What a horrible idea!" I'm concerned. But the second reaction is allowing the planet to get to 3 or 4 °C is also a bad idea. So it's a challenging question as to which winds up being better.
I'll stop with that.
JANE LONG: Thanks, Doug. I'd love for you to leave that figure up if you can.
First, thanks to Simon for your introduction. I thought you were going to introduce me as "somebody who's retired but couldn't shut up." I will take my five minutes.
I think one of the things that goes along with this figure that Doug showed is that it is not very well understood that the last round of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calculations about where we were headed on climate showed that no model that was run in that series of studies could reach the goals of staying below 2 °C, not to mention 1.5 °C, without some kind of intervention. These models are not perfect, but they integrate everything we know scientifically about climate, and no one now can find a reasonable path that we think we can be on that will stay below these targets that we think are very important.
So some kind of intervention is indicated by this. It is time to do research. But the research is very, very complicated, because of the fundamental reason you've brought up—the fear of it. Basically, if we have to do research on this, one of the reasons we have a really hard time is that no one can see an institution capable of making good rational decisions to do something like what Doug has described.
Who in the world could come together and say, "Okay, we're all going to mitigate, thank you. We're all going to do it right. We're going to go as fast as we can. I know we can't get it done fast enough without hurting people, so we're going to do a little bit of solar radiation management and we're going to develop a long-term plan to bring the atmosphere back to a safe level by CDR."
There's nobody, there's no thing, there's nothing. So what do we do?
One of the only rays of hope in this is good science, because good science in the past has enabled good policy. I'll give you just one example. In a way it's a bad example; in a way it's a good example.
Nuclear test ban treaties were enabled by the fact that geophysicists were able to be sure that no one could set off a nuclear weapon without everybody knowing exactly what they did. That enabled a 100-to-zero or whatever—90-to-zero, I don't know—vote in the Senate to ratify nuclear test ban treaties. That is an example of good science helping.
The problem here is that that is about not doing something. We are talking about managing something, proactively doing something, and it is extremely difficult to think of an institution that can manage that. I think you will hear probably later on about all the laws and treaties we have for telling people that they cannot do something if it is bad. But we have a very hard time figuring out how to do something if it is the right thing to do and the most strategic thing to do.
So the number one thing we have to do right now is begin governance simultaneously with research. We should not allow any significant research in this without co-developing a management structure, a governance structure, that goes along with it.
And just as research should start small and it should start with low risk, the kinds of things we do to start governance should also be small. But they should be formal. We need advisory functions. We need to figure out how we can do transparency.
One more thing besides that is that we are in a very, very strange era with respect to truth. The reliability of this research has to be very strong. We have to be able to be clear about what the meaning of the research is, how good our data is, what we know, what we don't know, what we're going to do about what we don't know, and how what we did panned out compared to what we thought it was going to do. All of these things have to become transparent. Scientists do not know how to do that. I taught scientists not to do that, so I know that they don't know how to do it.
We need a new type of career, people who sit at the middle, sit between the science and the policy, who understand what the governance issues are, and also understand the basics of the science, and who drive that kind of transparency and reliability in the institutions. That means we are going to be redeveloping and redefining mission-driven research in a way that makes sense now.
We have done mission-driven research in the past. We still do some now. What we did in the past created an enormous environmental insult in the United States and in Russia, as well as in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world, as we drove again for nuclear weapons. We had mission-driven research there, but it was hell-bent-for-leather, and people did whatever they had to do to achieve the mission. That's not okay.
At the same time, now we have mission-driven research, at least in the United States, some of it driven by the National Science Foundation (NSF), where the scientists themselves are deeply suspicious of the way in which it is being done. It is being done for profit, and that kind of vested interest has to be eliminated from this. Vested interest has no place in investigations that have to do with the changing climate of the entire world.
So we have to reconsider. We need a very focused effort on what these institutions are going to be like and how we are going to charter them. How are we going to make an institution that is chartered not to develop geoengineering, but to find out if something like that might work and might be better; and if it's not, be rewarded for saying, "This is a really terrible idea; don't do it"? How many scientists and scientific institutions are rewarded for telling you their ideas are bad? We don't have any. So this is going to take a huge amount of effort, and I think this is where the key challenge is.
Just to say one final thing, scientists have been driving this. An example of scientists driving this is the National Academy of Science splitting a report they did on geoengineering into a part on SRM and a part on CDR. One of the biggest criticisms of SRM is that it is a slippery slope, that people, especially climate-deniers for example, would glom onto this as an escape from having to do mitigation.
We are playing into that if we split these things apart. We have to treat them as an integrated strategic problem right from the get-go. We should never be able to do research on geoengineering without placing it in the context of an entire climate strategy. It is not a single technology; it is a system, and we have to treat it as a system, from the system of the technology itself through the whole system of the climate.
That's what I have to say.
PABLO SUAREZ: Thank you.
Jane just referred to the fact that we have to do things that we don't know how to do. I am going to invite you to confront that. In a minute or so you are going to be asked to do something. It is going to be very safe.
My name is Pablo. I used to be a researcher on climate and disasters, a system dynamics modeler. A dozen years ago I joined a global humanitarian team called the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre. I help humanitarians understand and address the humanitarian consequences of both extreme events and climate change and what to do about them: "There is a cyclone about to hit Mozambique—what do we do?" "It turns out there is geoengineering that may happen—what do we do?"
So everybody, including the panelists—many of you have no idea that this is happening—please stand up. Find a partner, ideally someone you don't know. Shake hands. [Audience members stand up and start talking to each other.] Yes, exactly. You have no choice but to engage. Exactly. If needed, form a group of three. Excellent.
This is already very good. You want to have a conversation. We do not know how to organize conversations with people we don't know and be efficient with time management and so on.
Your task is to—you're no longer who you think you are. You have just become a Red Cross worker or a Red Crescent worker. You have just learned that there is a decision about to be made—it is sometime in the future; things are going really bad—there may be geoengineering deployment coming soon in your part of the world. You may be in Southeast Asia, in a Pacific island, in Latin America, in sub-Saharan Africa.
Your task is to think of: What can happen that will get me by surprise? This is what you have to answer to each other. Oliver, the task is: If geoengineering is being decided, whether for yes or for no, whether we do it or don't do it. There may be surprises—surprises on the physical world, surprises on the people world, surprises on the institutional world, surprises on the donor world.
So each one of you take turns. One is going to say, "I think a big surprise may be X," and say a statement—not a monologue, a statement, a Tweet-length statement. Your counterpart will say, "No, I think a bigger surprise is ___," and you will say whatever you think is a bigger surprise. You go back and forth four times or so. What's a big surprise that you as the Red Cross can confront? Go.
[Audience performs exercise]
Stop, please. Thank you. Time is up. Thank you.
You have all identified something that can happen that if you're talking about it it's because it merits your attention. It may be an awesome opportunity; it may be a potentially catastrophic thing wiping out your nation—I don't know—but you spoke of things.
Now I want you to reorganize in a different group of two or three or four. Go. You have 10 seconds.
[Audience performs exercise]
Thank you. Do you notice the extent to which you want to talk to each other? And yet, we continue to organize events with a format that has everyone in the passive role, someone talking and then a sequence of unidirectional Q&A. We need to rethink how we organize events if we want participation.
Now in your new group of three or four people you are going to do a different thing. Instead of talking about surprises that can catch you unprepared and "No, the worst one is ___," now you are going to say "yes" to each other. You are going to say, "What we could do as Red Cross is ___"—say something.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Resettle populations.
PABLO SUAREZ: Right. That's not something you can do as the Red Cross. I don't have the money.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: That is, assist others to resettle populations.
PABLO SUAREZ: Now you are going to say to them—but you are going to answer, "Yes, and ___," and build on that.
Now, of course, when you say, "Yes, and ___" you may not know that this Red Cross does not have the authority to relocate, so you may go into a spiral of delusional assumptions of possibility.
But your task is to say, "What can the Red Cross do about all of this?" Say something short, "Yes, and [something]" and not go on and on four or five times. Go.
[Audience performs exercise]
Stop! Thank you all.
I have four minutes to tell you what we are doing as the Red Cross and Red Crescent family.
First of all, some of us, including myself, since 2009 have been engaging. Now, you have met Jane and Oliver and others in this room. In 2009—when it seemed like "Baloney! Manipulating the global climate deliberately?"—it seemed like something that would have a 0.01 percent chance of happening in our lifetime.
Now things look different. Since then, we have engaged to the extent possible in conversing, in learning, in researching the science. We have two colleagues here also from the Red Cross who are having passionate discussions about how we interpret and communicate science and so on.
We have also been writing and presenting our humanitarian concerns. Today, at 9:00 am allegedly, our journal article "Geoengineering: A Humanitarian Concern" should have been published in the journal Earth's Future.
What we argue is that, whether we do it or don't do it, there is a very, very concerning future ahead of us as humanitarians. People who do not cause problems are the first ones to suffer, and this can only get more complicated, more surprising, more unmanageable. We are already unable to manage it.
Now imagine when decisions are going to be made about whether or not to remake the planet by individuals who have the technological, institutional, and financial capabilities of doing it. Do you think they will engage in the decision-making process the farmers of Doune Baba Dièye in Western Senegal? Do you think that what can go wrong for them, whether we do it or not, is going to be a prominent feature of the decision-making process?
We think that that has to be infused into the decision-making. It has to be importantly not about the planet and the ecosystems only, not about the economies and so many things and security only, but also about the most vulnerable, the people who are not in the conversation.
In the paper we also refer to what we labeled as "predatory geoengineering." There is the possibility that given the technological feasibility of relocating the Intertropical Convergence Zone, for example—"You know what? I'd like some more rain coming my way"—that means that someone else is going to have less rain. "I'd like to not make it so cold here"—that means someone else may be too cold there.
And if there's going to be a relocation of risks, what about the externalities? What about the cost to someone else? This is very seriously concerning.
We propose a framework on how to think about externalities from the perspective of the most vulnerable. We also refer to what until now, since 2009, in our engagements we have almost consistently noticed in some of the voices referring to what we could do as "delusional assumptions of rationality." That is the term we use in the paper.
If it is dominated by science—"We think that we have an equation, we do the derivatives, we identify the optimum, we propose the optimum; the optimum will happen because people are going to do what we scientists say"—well, guess what? That may be delusional.
So how can we bring the humanitarian concerns to this? Tomorrow will be our first webinar on geoengineering for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. David Keith will be the counterpoint to my arguments because I know that I say things that I don't know. I have no choice. I have to share with my colleagues what is going on, and I have limited time to engage because I just came back from the Emirates and I am going to Mozambique. I am spending one night at home.
Thank you so much for the opportunity. It is delightful. We wish all the best to the team that is making progress.
JENNIFER MORGAN [via Skype] : Thanks very much.
First of all, thanks for inviting Greenpeace to be part of this conversation. I wish I had been there to participate just before—I feel like I missed out—but I'm glad I'm there virtually. I just think this is a fundamental debate for our societies. What I thought I would do is just outline a little bit of our thinking on it in my five minutes.
It is clear that we are in a climate crisis. It is also clear that allowing the planet to get to 3 or 4 °C, as Doug was saying—or I think we would say even 1.5 or 2 °C—is actually a horrible idea indeed.
We know what is needed. We all know what is needed—the emission cuts that are needed; the technologies are available; the price of renewables is declining.
The lack of those deeper targets—yes, Paris only got us so far, and we need to go further—is not due to the technical issues. It is political. It is building those coalitions, moving forward, and removing the influence of those who want a fossil fuel future to continue. So we have to focus on removing those.
But the models—I don't want to go into all of this, Jane—are flawed. We know that they are least-cost models. Look at the way that the International Energy Agency (IEA) has had to adjust their renewables assumptions, and the experience in the marketplace is demonstrating this.
So, yes, it is unbelievably challenging to get to a 1.5 or 2 °C world without BECCS, for example, or carbon dioxide capture and sequestration (CCS). But I think we need to optimally get some models out there that are more reflective of what is possible.
Our sense is having these current arguments for the need for geoengineering 20-30 years from now are being constructed on a landscape of panic and fear and despair. But if we were actually to cut emissions in those 20-30 years, then the scale of the problem remaining would be far smaller and people would wonder how we could even contemplate trying to engineer a new climate.
So we have to keep our focus—I know that, Janos, you say this often—and that's one thing that is obviously for us incredibly important in this initiative on emission cuts, first keep that focus, and to limit the changes by time to mitigate and to adapt.
Greenpeace is opposed to the concept of geoengineering. We think it is a distraction that is going to change policy decisions and people's behavior for the worse. And it could have unpredictable and uncontrollable adverse consequences, and actually could even bring more chaos and inequality without any guarantee that it would do anything positive to counteract climate change. We also think that research funds should be better spent investing on the things that are controllable.
But we recognize that proposals for geoengineering research are there; they are coming forward. So we very much see the need for the development of a global, transparent, and effective regulatory and control mechanism for the governance—and, Jane, you mentioned this as well—of geoengineering research so that consistent, precautionary, non-commercially driven decisions can be made regarding the legitimacy, the scientific value, the necessity, the legality, and the potential impacts. We are engaged in this and will continue to work toward the development of such governance mechanisms wherever possible, and we are pleased to be part of this discussion to do so.
You spoke a little bit, Pablo, of the desperation that actually the Carnegie papers outline as far as the scenarios that could come of a state moving forward and trying out some things. So the tight regulation on the research side we think is fundamental.
That governance has to capture that research, not just any eventual deployment. Given that fuzzy line between the field research and the deployment and the nature and scale of field experiments that may be designed for proof of concept, it is vital to have these governance arrangements in place to regulate research and not just any ultimate deployment. As many of you know, that is the approach taken by the London Convention and the London Protocol in regulating ocean fertilization.
Just as a thought for work moving forward, we have been looking at the proposals coming out of the Potsdam Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) on geoengineering research and governance for it. Although it is a voluntary framework, we think that those principles could relatively easily be picked up as a basis for regulation if a suitable international regime could be identified to codify and police it. It puts strong emphasis on the need for governance before research and on the need for precaution to underpin the approach.
In closing, I think it is not just Greenpeace that thinks this; it is also the U.S. National Intelligence Council white paper from August 2016 that really recognizes the great uncertainties and the fact that these unilateral efforts of countries or groups to deploy geoengineering would certainly "heighten regional or international tensions, especially in the absence of multilateral frameworks or institutions to govern such activities."
So while we want to have the focus on emission reductions and that will be where we are most active, getting these regulatory frameworks for research in place are fundamental.
Thanks very much.
OLIVER MORTON: I want to take off on some of the same bases, though not necessarily in quite the same direction.
But going back—is it just 14 months?—to Paris, having had an extremely positive experience of the Paris United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) and of the agreement that it brought forth, I thought that it marked an opportunity for a broad, serious discussion of particularly solar geoengineering, and a discussion which I, as someone who devoted some time to writing a book on the subject, obviously thought was kind of necessary. I still think that that broad, serious discussion is necessary and I welcome this morning as a big step forward in it.
So why did Paris—for me, in my naiveté—bring forth three reasons for a better discussion of geoengineering?
One was that it showed a large part of the world who believed, or were willing to commit to believing, that they were on a path to emissions reduction. It really did have a different mood from previous COPs I have been to, the sense that in general this is the direction that has been set was palpable.
Second, just in and of itself, it showed that climate politics and climate diplomacy are capable of doing good stuff, and more than you might have expected. It showed that people were able to conceive of things and deals that had not previously been seen. That of course came out of a lot of work by various people, including Janos. So it wasn't like it suddenly appeared at Paris, but Paris really I think marked a sort of flowering, a sort of culmination of that.
The other thing was the new stress on severely limiting the dangerous interactions in the climate, so limiting well below 2 °C ideally, as well as 1.5 °C.
It is worth remembering that the second and third of those two points are linked. One of the reasons why the diplomatic process was working better was a sense of the genuine harms which are getting closer was deeply felt by many people in developing countries and some people in developed countries. These things mattered in my mind for a discussion of geoengineering for three linked reasons.
One is—and Doug has already spoken to this, and in a different way so has Jennifer—the widespread, lamentable but understandable, way that there has sprung up of talking about especially solar geoengineering as an alternative to emissions reduction. I think very, very few people who work in the field actually believe that that would be in any way a sensible basis for policy. But that is a way of seeing it because it is seen as two solutions, one an alternative to the other.
In a world where you do have this broad sense of buy-in, of commitment to emissions reduction, I was thinking that it might be easier to say, "And there is a complement to that, there is something else that you can do"—again, as in the diagram that originates from John Shepherd that we saw earlier—"there is a sense in which you can while doing your emissions reduction also do other things"—and this is a crucial point—"which reduce actual harm." Now, if that is the case, that's something worth thinking about.
The second point, the politics point, made me think that maybe a political process that had managed to achieve so much between Cancún in 2010 and Paris in 2015 might be capable of having a broader discussion, because new concepts, such as loss and damage, were coming into the way that people were talking about climate, and I thought this might be articulated into a wider vision.
The third thing, which is again linked to the first two, is that there is not incontrovertible, but there is good, evidence that suggests that if it could be done in a safe, just, and governable way—and those are all questions that seem to me to be open to various degrees—some form of sunshine geoengineering, of changing the Earth's brightness, might well increase the chances of limiting warming to below 2 °C or even to 1.5 °C.
I am not saying that it is the only way of doing that, but I think it greatly increases the chances of that. I am also not saying that because I think that that necessarily means this is a thing to do. There may be risks or repugnances about this project which would stop you from doing it even if you thought that it was more or less the only way to get to 1.5 °C. But I thought the 1.5 °C, the sense of genuine harm, the sense of climate vulnerability, would drive more of this discussion. To date it really has not.
A particular place to see this is the IPCC. The Paris Agreement mandated the IPCC to do a report that was specifically on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial and related greenhouse gas emission pathways. Admittedly, that brief does not in itself include solar geoengineering. However, if you look at the way that that report is now being referred to within the IPCC, you will find that it is talking about global warming of 1.5 °C as "the 1.5 °C challenge."
To have that discussion, as the IPCC report seems to intend to, without talking about solar geoengineering more than in passing seems to me to show that what we have done so far—which is great work by people like Doug and people like Jane of working on the science of geoengineering—adds up to a very, very small reason for actually intervening to talk about geoengineering. And there are strong reasons why people do not want to talk about geoengineering.
What I look forward to from C2G2 is that—and I think Joel put it very nicely—it is like an innovative counter-narrative to provide a context for asking questions, not about what would geoengineering do, but "What would we like geoengineering to do? Could we find a geoengineering that would meet the very many different constraints that we have? Can we do the politics, the kind that we did at Paris, of coming to this with different beliefs but still agreeing on specific actions to take things forward?"
Thanks very much.
JANOS PASZTOR: Thank you, Oliver, for that interesting challenge, and we'll try to live up to that.
I would like to share with you a few words of what we actually are planning to do and what we are trying to do in the next few years.
Why are we doing it? I think there were lots of very interesting ideas from the previous speakers about the challenge of existing emissions, what countries are trying to do about it, and where we are in terms of our delivery of those promises.
We cannot say for sure how far the intensive mitigation that countries have to do will take us. We are not here to judge that. We know that they have to do it, and that is the number one priority, that emissions have to be reduced, whatever we do.
But what we know is, very much along the lines of the colleagues who spoke here, that there are a set of technologies that may potentially contribute to the solution. But the reality is that we do not know enough about them. We do not know enough about them even to test their viability. Even if we found out enough to test if they are viable, we do not know enough to compare how much more expensive, less expensive, when exactly they will act, how long they will act, and so on. So we need to find out more.
And what we know even less is what a number of colleagues have mentioned, the governance frameworks that we would need to, first of all, make sure that any research that goes on goes in a certain direction, in certain ways; and if ever governments—or other actors for that matter; it is not only governments that can decide to this—decide to deploy, then obviously the governance frameworks have to be able to not just control and govern it in a controlled sense but also allow participation of all the different actors.
These are some of the assumptions. We are assuming that we need to find out more so that we can move forward.
Now, we also recognize that most of the work on these issues has been done in academia and in the research community and practically no discussion is taking place in the policy sphere. There is some—Jennifer mentioned the London Convention, and there is also the Convention on Biological Diversity—which has had some discussion, but on the whole there is a total lack of discussion of these issues at the policy level.
That is really what is making the overarching objective of our project to shift the debate from academia and the research community toward the intergovernmental policy space. That does not mean that academia should stop working on it. It just means that the policy people need to engage.
So that gives us our strategy, and the strategy that we have ahead of us is to engage systematically with a series of organizations at the international level—intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); nongovernmental organizations like Greenpeace, WWF, and others; think tanks; private-sector organizations; and scientific groups—and at the same time also at the national level with government officials in an informal manner.
What will we do in these engagements? The idea here is to engage, to start talking and working on these issues. Some of these organizations have already started, so we can encourage more. But some have not started, so we are putting it on the agenda, doing an assessment from their perspective, doing some outreach workshops, engaging their respective communities; perhaps coming up with standards and norms, perhaps coming up with codes of conduct of how to do research, how to operate in this area.
Our expectation is that by doing this with a number of different actors over the next few years what will result is, first of all, a set of products that will be out there—reports, assessments, and so on and so forth. But more importantly, there will be a network of people in those organizations and nationally in the governments and in the civil societies that work with those organizations and there will be this group of people who begin to understand much better what these issues are, what the different criteria are. Then they will be able to start working on their own policies or engage with others in their government, in their civil society organizations, or in their private-sector companies to come up with well-thought-out and considered policies about this.
We are not going to hide this, but in a sense one of the long-term objectives that we would like to reach is that eventually governments get together at the international level and address these issues as they should, because these are issues that require multilateral action. You cannot solve or cannot address these geoengineering issues in a vacuum in any one particular country because it will have an impact globally. If climate change was a global problem, this one is even more global. So it will require this kind of engagement.
Now on the side, if I may mention—this is very interesting because of the kind of institutions and organizations that we engage with—we found out a few days ago that the Model United Nations is having a meeting in Boston starting this morning, hundreds of young people gathering, and one of the topics that they have selected is geoengineering.
I was in Boston yesterday and I met the secretary-general and the undersecretary-general responsible for this area. There is a director of the committee who will deal with this issue. They have prepared a few questions, and Simon, who is facilitating our discussion, will bring up some of their questions. But it is another avenue of talking with the young generation and engaging with them, and we will be doing all that.
Just two examples also of the kind of engagement and then I'll stop—and I hope you have lots of questions to all of us here—two very concrete examples of the kinds of things that we will try to do, just for you to get a sense.
One of them I mentioned already: The Convention for Biological Diversity has already a decision in relation to biodiversity. They did that four years ago. It is something like a moratorium on further geoengineering activities until certain issues can be found out. That was reaffirmed in December in Cancún at the last meeting of the Conference of the Parties. That decision also has a one-liner: "We need more transdisciplinary research."
So what does that mean? It does not say very much. What we are going to try to do in the next year-and-a-half is to engage with the secretariat, with the substantive process of the Conference of the Parties, and with the experts, and try to develop—put meat on the bones—"What kind of a research program could one have in the context of biodiversity objectives?"
If we are successful, that could eventually be an input that the Conference of the Parties could adopt. That does a number of very interesting things, because it will give clear, considered, public policy guidance into the research process, that that is the kind of research that we are looking for so that we can answer the questions that we need.
Another quick example and then I'll stop here. I spent a few days at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi just two weeks ago speaking with the executive director and other senior staff. We had come together because there is an interest on both sides to work together. We have come up with a list of about 10 different issues that UNEP would like to do in this area—sometimes based on their existing mandates so there is no problem with mandates; in some cases they may have to work with governments to see whether new mandates could be generated in that area. But there is very strong interest, and we will work with them, and we will hopefully be able to get some interesting results.
That is roughly the package.
I wanted to close with exactly the words that Joel started with, thanking very much Joel for hosting our project and our initiative in this institution. I really wanted to thank Irene, and through Irene the Rasmussen Foundation, for providing the financial resources.
And, very important, I'd like to thank everybody who has helped to make this project happen. Some of them are sitting in the room, in the back here, and some of them are on the panel here. Some of them are not here. But it is together with all of those fantastic people that we have been able to put together the concept and now we are ready to go.
On the 1st of January we became official. We have the resources now. We can get going. Staff are now available, and I look forward to working with them and everybody else.
And I look forward to some interesting questions from the group.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is Olivia Jeffers. I am a writer with Compassionate Technologies on cutting-edge tech and humanity. My background is first in civil and environmental engineering, and then I practiced as a software engineer, and then I sold tech products, so I did active marketing for the Millennial consumer-age generation. So that's where my perspective comes from.
I am fascinated by the topics of both climate science and also machine learning. "Machine learning" is code for artificial intelligence. These are the two things that are the scariest in the whole world. But I think that machine learning has so many wonderful potential ways to assist with climate science and climate data gathering. We need more research. If you can bring culture of the tech world—that crazy "fly by the seat of your pants, throw spaghetti at the walls" culture—and put it into climate science, it can move so fast. I would love to see machine learning there. I would love to see things automated. I would love to take cutting-edge tech into climate science. That would be so cool.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for all of your commentary. My name is Jolie Diane. I am with Agriculture Defense Coalition and Zero Geoengineering.
My question is: What are the human health implications and environmental impacts of this technology?
And second, in the United States it is already against the law to dump sulfur into the atmosphere or generate any kind of pollution like that. I am going to different legislators to try to let them know about this because not many know. So my next question is: Why isn't the public involved in this conversation?
Maryland lost 61 percent of its bees in 2015. Our trees have molds and funguses because they get too much cloud cover—as you were saying, the jets going through and the sulfur. They have it in all the labs.
So I'm very concerned just as a person. I'm not a science person, but I know that I care about the planet. There are so many people out there. The public needs to be a part of this conversation. You can't say, "It's just for scientists," because if we want to have a healthy lifestyle and we want to eat better and we want to go to the gym, we can do that; but if we want to breathe clean air, we cannot do that if we have geoengineering.
SIMON NICHOLSON: Let's make sure we focus on that public deliberation question for a moment. What does it mean to bring the public meaningfully into this conversation? Janos? Pablo, you may have some thoughts.
PABLO SUAREZ: I will start because this is a very important part of our initiative, to make sure that public engagement happens.
You are absolutely right. The public needs to be involved, and it needs to be involved not at the end when it has all happened and then take it, but it needs to be involved in the discussions and in the preparations, even at the stage of research.
We have a number of activities that we are planning in this area, apart from general outreach and engagement, as much as we can in both ways. But we will be working systematically with a number of civil society organizations. And more importantly, there is another activity that is taking place that is parallel to this one whose aim is actually to reach out to the broadest possible representation of people through civil societies across the world to discuss this issue and to get the feedback from all those entities—how they feel, how they see the impacts—and then what we can learn from that.
So this is very much built into our project, and it is definitely part of our project to engage with others who are trying to do this. That is definitely what we will do.
On the scientific aspects, perhaps some other colleagues can speak.
JANE LONG: I think most people who are involved in the climate problem agree that the most important thing is that the world as a whole becomes strategic about this problem and deals with it, particularly mitigation. We cannot get anywhere without mitigation.
One of the things that escapes most people is that all of the carbon dioxide that you put into the atmosphere pretty much stays there for hundreds of years. So this is not like a normal pollution problem where you just slow down and it gets better. It stops getting worse when you stop emitting, and that is a very different problem than we have faced before.
With that necessary commitment, I think one of the things that some surveys have shown is that people who are exposed to the really horrifying idea—I call it "Frankenstein's academy"—of doing geoengineering become more committed to not having the problem—in other words, mitigating, stopping emissions.
And this is not about how much renewable energy you put on or how much of this or that you do. It is about what your emissions are. That is the bottom line. So keeping a focus on emissions—geoengineering can be part of the dialogue with the public to get them to understand that you have to be strategic about this problem and that you have to stop emitting. I think that is an incredibly important part of the public dialogue that has to take place.
QUESTIONER [Jolie Diane]: Can you clarify between the emissions that you would be dumping with the solar radiation management and the emissions that come out of our car and the airplanes? Because I agree with you 100 percent we need—
JANE LONG: I was talking about greenhouse gas emissions.
DOUGLAS MacMARTIN: Let me actually just make two comments.
One is I absolutely agree with you that we need more research. I could say a little bit about what has been done about health impacts, for example. But there is absolutely no question there has not yet been enough research to really answer all of these questions.
QUESTIONER [Jolie Diane]: But can you do research without public consent?
DOUGLAS MacMARTIN: Right now humanity as a whole, just from—all of your gasoline has sulfur in it; power plants, cars, airplanes, all release sulfur dioxide into the troposphere, and that amount globally is about 100 megatons per year. That rains out very quickly as acid rain and so forth.
The amount that you need to put into the stratosphere is small in comparison. So if you wanted to cool the planet by about 1 °C—you are polluting the stratosphere, there is absolutely no question—it is simply a question of relative risk: Is that better or not? And that has to be—I agree completely with you—a public conversation and the public needs to be involved in that research going forward.
But I think the research that has been done to date would suggest that the benefit from cooling the planet is probably more than the direct impact of the extra sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere.
SIMON NICHOLSON: I want to bring in Oliver and Pablo, who want to speak as well, and Jennifer too.
But one important point to note here. This conversation has very quickly turned to one technological response—that is, putting sulfur particles into the stratosphere. The project that Janos is talking about is embracing and covering a whole suite of possible technological response options. Those are important questions here, but it is also important to disaggregate and talk about what is going on in these other spaces as well.
OLIVER MORTON: I just want to come back to Olivia's point. I am not sure in lots of geoengineering applications that I would wildly welcome the "fail early/fail often" approach. But I think we've got a wonderful example just this week of a way in which the tech mentality, and indeed machine learning, can be brought to bear on this. That is the successful launch of 88 Earth-observing satellites by Planet in San Francisco, an extraordinary achievement from a company that wasn't there five years ago.
The ability to understand the Earth in many, many dimensions, including many human dimensions, to make the Earth into a really searchable data set and learn through that data is immense and it is fundamental to any further work on geoengineering that you should understand the system that you are trying to engineer.
I think there is a huge amount in terms of data acquisition and machine learning that you can do about how the planet is and how the planet is changing that I would love to see far more people involved in and far more funds going to. I think monitoring the planet as it actually is often gets overlooked in favor of thinking about how it might be.
JANE LONG: Oliver, I think that is a great point.
I just want to say that what Olivia said was "climate science"—you have to remember that climate science underlies the engineering.
OLIVER MORTON: Oh, absolutely.
JANE LONG: So it is a really important point.
SIMON NICHOLSON: Very quickly from Pablo and then from Jennifer.
PABLO SUAREZ: Olivia, thank you. You're hired. We have no money, but—[Laughter]
Just a very quick story. It is not just about understanding. It is about making decisions based on that understanding.
In the West African nation of Togo we have a machine-learning approach to understanding what is going on upstream of a hydro-powered dam. We had no idea about the relationship between rainfall upstream, overspill, and flooding downstream. We fed three years of data. Now we understand.
In September of 2016, through a digital approach that included machine learning, the machine told us, "A flood is coming, I think." We believed it. We took action, including moving money—we call it forecast-based financing (FbF)—ahead of time, and then the flood came.
So the Red Cross, with partners, has embraced machine learning to learn fast about extreme events that we do not know how to manage. I would argue that we need collectively to think not only about understanding and the science, but from my team's perspective it is rapid decision-making. With or without SRM and all these things, there will be extreme events that people do not know how to manage. How can we rapidly create mechanisms, mobilizing all the powers of humanity, to make smarter decisions quickly?
JENNIFER MORGAN: Yes, I think definitely more of the tech world. I think the disruption that is occurring within broader technology trends is actually something that gives me hope in a number of ways.
I think the question whether that is directed into low-carbon development or not is the key. Autonomous vehicles is a great example. It could go incredibly well or it could go incredibly poorly depending on what we do. So doing that smartly I think is important.
On engaging the public, it is absolutely fundamental to do this. Just two quick thoughts, maybe building a little bit on what you were saying, Jane.
When you start realizing that this conversation is even happening it puts the risks of climate change front and center and the impacts of climate change front and center and it makes the choices really clear. I think society and people need to understand those choices better than they understand them right now, and figuring out how we talk to people about that and engaging them in a way that gets engagement in the debate, rather than just fear and panic, is very important.
The second is citizen science and what should the research focus on so that it isn't the commercial interests. Maybe there is a way of engaging people in that as well and making those choices on the research focus.
SIMON NICHOLSON: I have just a couple of questions here that I want to make sure that we get to, and then we'll turn back to the floor, if that's okay. These are from folks who are watching online.
One is a framing question: "What's typically talked about in terms of climate engineering is that it is an emergency response. Is that the best and only way to think about climate engineering?" That is a question from Mike McCracken in Washington, DC.
And then we've got some very specific questions: "How do you bring transparency to the space and how do you bring transparency to the research effort? What does that actually look like in the international sphere?" And then, "What does it mean in real terms to get a global conversation going, not just 'We should do it'?"
Anybody on the panel, have we thought about what that looks like? How does one actually get a global conversation going about climate engineering? Just reflections on those questions.
OLIVER MORTON: This has been a framing. It is a framing that goes back to an influential report by the Royal Society in 2009.
I think it is a very dangerous framing. Among other things, it implicitly accepts the idea that geoengineering is in some way an alternative to emissions reduction, that it is what you do when something terrible fails.
Also, emergencies are famously times of extraordinarily poor government, because the very fact that it is an emergency means you say: "Okay, throw out the rules. We'll do what the hell we like." Also, it suggests that you would introduce geoengineering on a very grand scale very quickly because, "Hey, it's an emergency." I think all the things that you might want to do about introducing geoengineering would be least well done in an emergency.
I think there is also a sense in which it kind of gives people talking about geoengineering a bit of a free pass because they say, "Well, I don't think we should really be thinking about doing this now, but we should have it in store if there is an emergency."
I think you should be thinking about "How can your research and your thinking help to work out whether it's something you can do at all in a safe, just, and governable way?" not this idea that, "Oh well, come Ragnarök we'll use it." I think it is a bad frame, and I speak with a respect for the Norse gods.
JANOS PASZTOR: Just to totally agree with Oliver, we have to do the opposite of emergency response when it comes to geoengineering if we are considering this because we will end up with all the wrong answers and all the wrong ways to do it.
But what I really wanted to talk about is the global conversation. I think we are having a global conversation right now. We have people here from different parts of the world, although they may be physically based in New York City; we have people who are looking at it on the Internet. So this is already a global conversation.
But what we will try to do in a systematic way through the strategy that I described earlier is exactly that, to encourage debate and dialogue within these different institutions with their own constituencies, and all that will add up to a global dialogue.
Now, whether we need a global dialogue where everybody is involved in some kind of general assembly, that sort of thing, that is also part of that. At some point maybe we need that too. But a global dialogue does not happen sort of, "Let's have a global dialogue." I think we need to build it up, engage the different actors, and it will become a global dialogue.
I want to respond to the emergency issue. Oliver said, "Emergency response on a grand scale is not what we want to do." I totally agree with that. But I do think there is another path that you have to take into account. It is what you called "predatory geoengineering." I think that this other path is much more realistic in terms of what might happen.
So I think what is going to happen now is people are going to feel incredibly increasing climate stress and they are going to be asking, "What can I do about it?" Those responses will grow out of the desire to adapt.
So if you have a heat wave or a drought that is going on and on, you are going to try to take some intervention which will not be a global intervention at first; it will be a regional intervention. As those regional interventions grow, they will begin to affect more than one country. And as more than one country or more than one region are involved, they are going to have to start to talk to each other and have some kind of governance on a local scale.
What is going to happen I believe—my prognosis—is that these interventions are going to get bigger and stronger and take more and more time until in fact they do affect the global climate.
The silver lining of that predatory piece is that maybe these regional interactions and the regional agreements can grow as well into some kind of global governance.
I think it is almost inevitable that that is going to happen. I think that people are going to look for ways to cool down a heat wave that lasts for four months and it is over 105 °F for four months; they are going to want to do something about it. If people have a drought, they are going to want to do something to steer a monsoon—there are already ideas out there about how to steer a monsoon. So basically we have to expect that in this constellation of geoengineering ideas.
I will just make one other comment. Please don't ever believe that the two things that we have been talking about are the only two things. Very few people have thought about geoengineering—very, very few people—and very few ideas have been vetted. No ideas have been totally vetted, none.
There are fascinating ideas. But when you have a research program which is mission-driven and which is designed to collect new ideas, new things will come out. I will bet my bottom dollar that this neat classification of SRN and CDR is going to disappear. People are going to think of things that do all kinds of interactive things. This is a complex system.
I'm sorry, I have to say one more thing. Don't forget that the sulfur dioxide that we put into the air from power plants, which is horrible for people's health, is cooling the Earth. Don't forget that. This is complicated. It is very, very complicated.
QUESTION: My name is Hannah Nissan. I am a climate scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society. I also work with the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre.
So far the discussion has been—in fact it follows on quite nicely from Jane's point—very global. You are talking about targeting and global average temperature rise using technologies. Fine.
The way in which people experience climate is regional weather patterns. My concern is that there is not enough discussion about—I am not a geoengineering scientist, but my understanding is that none, or potentially very few, of these interventions act homogenously over the globe. The weather is a result of spatial distributions in heating, so there will be knock-on effects of every intervention on regions in other parts of the world. That comes back to what Pablo was saying about the poorest parts of the world being affected most.
Our uncertainty about modeling the weather is very large. We already struggle in today's climate. So my concern is about how can the regional uncertainties and the response of how people are actually going to experience the outcomes of these interventions be built into the political and governance structures that you have all been talking about that we need to create?
QUESTION: Holly Beck, Cornell University. My question is actually for Jennifer Morgan. I am so thrilled that you could be here with us.
I was assuming that many of your comments were about solar geoengineering. I could have been wrong, but I am really curious about your perspectives on negative emissions.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Shannon Forrest. I'm from Bard College. I'm a student of Joel's.
I was just speaking to Ken during the exercise. The government often takes cues from the private sector. So my question is: What is the role of the private sector in this discourse, and do they have a role at all?
QUESTION: I'm Erin Coughlan de Perez. I also work for the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre. I have a similar question to Hannah's.
The only thing I would really add to what she was saying is if you are talking about mitigation, we tend to talk about 3° C versus 1.5 °C as a proxy for harm, and you were saying we would like to reduce harm.
In the context of solar radiation management, I am actually wondering if 1.5 °C as the global thermostat is a good proxy for harm, because you can achieve 1.5 °C in many different ways with a lot more harm or less harm to different people. So I am wondering, in this global dialogue are there other ways of talking about the goal and framing the goal in a way that perhaps isn't as risky as saying 1.5 °C but is a better proxy for global harm or regional harm?
JENNIFER MORGAN: Indeed, the term "climate engineering" is a very broad one. I think Greenpeace is looking and working actually on very large-scale reforestation and afforestation efforts as part of the negative emissions component. Clearly we are working in that space very actively.
I think on the question of BECCS, we are just currently not convinced of the BECCS—well, it is in all these models, but we really do not know what it means. We also look at the competition for land on that side of things. So we do differentiate between some of these technologies that are more on the solar side of things than on the large-scale negative emissions side of things.
I think, to get back to the first question—which was where can we have technology come in and are there other things that are way less risky than the ones that are on the table right now—that is what we would hope some of the research could focus on. But thanks for the opportunity to clarify.
OLIVER MORTON: I think the question that you bring up on regional risks is absolutely important. It is very important to remember—and this also goes to the question of reallocating research funds—the amount of research done on geoengineering is extraordinarily small. It is well under 1 percent of all climate change research. Doug is about 2.5 percent of the community just by citations, and it is a great honor to have him here.
One of the things is that the things people have looked at have been unbelievably crude models of what you might do with geoengineering. You might offset the radiative forcing of a doubling or a quadrupling of CO2 or you might keep step with an annual increase of CO2.
Ideas like "How would you do geoengineering so as to not change the world's average levels of precipitation as it warms, and what would the effect of that be?"—there are all sorts of questions you could ask about what might be a goal for geoengineering and what might be the distributions of harm for it. When you are asking those questions, those are questions that need to be asked, as I think was underlying your question, in a context of global and regional engagement and in terms of increasing the international discussion, as we talked about earlier.
I think there should be a shout-out also to something else that Steve Hamburg at EDF is involved in, which is the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative, which is active in running workshops and taking out interventions to talk to people in all parts of the world about what these things might mean and, thus, what they might mean to you and how you would want to see the sorts of things that you are talking about; what would be the goals of such an intervention as expressed by people who don't sit in conference rooms in developed countries.
JANE LONG: I think it is important to think about the global goals. I think that the ability to have a dialogue about global goals is really important. There is a separate dialogue about means. Goals and means have to be separated. So if you look at Paris, I think they did a very good job on goals and a really lousy job on means. You've got to have both.
PABLO SUAREZ: As for the metrics, the global average temperature is a simple number that is very handy. My first exposure to a graph with the words "with climate change and nothing else" versus "with climate change plus solar radiation management" from Ken Caldeira was showing that one option is the world is full of red and blue, that red is too little rain and blue is too much rain.
With geoengineering, much less; it looks like such a milder planet. But guess what? If you are Gabon, the worst-case scenario for almost everyone else was fine, you didn't have blue or red; but do geoengineering and Gabon turns bad. So the question is: Do we Gabon or do we not Gabon?
It is like all of you have some disease. We are healthy. Let's take all his organs and put them into those of you who are sick who can become healthier. But not him; we'll just sacrifice him.
OLIVER MORTON: How little you know of my organs. [Laughter]
PABLO SUAREZ: Then let's switch to Jane. The question is: Are we going to be willing to sacrifice some part of the world for the benefit of the average net benefit? Who makes that decision? I think the metric has to be reduced suffering with a weighting parameter with some extra attention to those who are least responsible for causing, most on the edge of survival, and that is by default what is not going to happen if we do not try to do it.
OLIVER MORTON: And that is also why this discussion cannot take place outside the realm of climate finance and adaptation and joint responsibility. You cannot just look at the harm done by geoengineering, of which there will be some, without trying to put it into this much broader humanitarian context. That is quite right.
DOUGLAS MacMARTN: I think Oliver said that bit about regional funding and geoengineering research much better than I was thinking I would say. Within a rounding error the amount of funding in scientific research is zero. There is a reasonable fraction of the people who have ever thought about geoengineering who are sitting in this room here today, between those of us here and up on the upper level there.
We do not know today how one might be able to design a deployment that would limit whether Gabon suffers or not. The amount of research that has been done has been things like "Go take a climate model, find the number that is the solar constant, and change the solar constant" or "Go take a climate model that simulates volcanic eruptions and say, 'Well, I'll just make that happen continuously and see what happens.'"
One of the wonderful things about having this conversation is the fact that we are trying to get the governance underway and the engagement underway early in the scientific process rather than having the science run off on its own and try to figure all sorts of stuff out and then come back and say, "Here's the answer."
I think my biggest concern, and what motivates me much more on the scientific side, is to me one of the worst-case scenarios would be it is 10 or 20 years from now and something happens—this goes back to the emergency issue—and somebody says, "We need to go do geoengineering." I would far rather be in a position at that point to either say, "No, here's why not" or "If you want to consider geoengineering, here are the ways to do that; here is what we think the outcomes are." So from a narrow scientific perspective it is trying to inform those decisions ahead of time.
JANOS PASZTOR: First, just a couple of points about issues raised.
I think about the regional discussion two points. One is that we need a lot more research to find out how that is going to work. This is very challenging at times when research funds are not going up in general but they tend to be going down. So that is something we have to think about.
But the more important part is about the governance because, as was said, there could be under different scenarios impacts that are different in one place than in the other. And we will always have a "global good"—that is, either the reduction of temperature directly or indirectly through carbon removal—so the world will be better off; but some people could end up being worse off. What kind of governance mechanism does that require to even make a decision like that explicitly and then implement it?
I mean let's face it: The reality of today is that with the carbon emissions that we are doing today we are kind of sacrificing the small island countries. Nobody has said clearly that that is what we are doing—in fact, nobody would dare to say that—but in reality that is what is happening.
So here the question comes around in a different way: Can we design a system that will be good for everybody; or, if it is not good for everybody, what can we do about that? These are the kind of governance challenges that our initiative is going to try to address.
For that—and, Pablo, I'm glad you raised this—the metric is going to be very important. It is not just a temperature or a sea level rise. It is something much, much more complicated than that.
Very briefly, the private sector. Somebody asked that question. The private sector has an important role in this in many different ways, and you could say some good roles and some maybe not-so-good roles. But the reality is that if we need to have technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere, which it is pretty clear that we need to have that—that's what everybody says—to some extent, then we better get the private sector on it and come up with the best ways of doing it with the least amount of harm and the least cost.
It is interesting that we talk all about this famous BECCS, the biomass-based energy with carbon capture and storage, because some modelers put that into their model. But that by no means is the best way to do it. We need innovation, we need ideas, and that is why we need to have that kind of research. And the private sector will have a role in that; there is absolutely no question about that.
I don't want to bring this to a conclusion in a sense, but I would like to thank you all—this should be Simon doing it, and I am sure you will want to still do that. But since I have the privilege but also the responsibility of moving this project forward, I want to thank you for having come and for having participated in the discussion. We will be working with many of you on this in different ways over the next years.
Hopefully, there will be success in the sense of engaging different constituencies—the public, the scientists, the government officials, the think tanks—so that we can get to the situation that Doug was mentioning, that we will have thought about this seriously—not that we maybe know all the answers, but we can discuss and provide clear input to policymakers about the options, about the impacts, about the solutions, and so on and so forth.
Thank you very much.
SIMON NICHOLSON: There is little more to say beyond this has been the official launch of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative.
Thanks to all of you who are here and to those viewing online. Please join me in thanking our panelists.