Governing solargeoengineering research as it leaves the laboratory
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, 79 John F. Kennedy Street, PO Box 117, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
One of the greatest controversies in geoengineering policy concerns the next stages of solar radiation management research, and when and how it leaves the laboratory. Citing numerous risks and concerns, a range of prominent commentators have called for field experiments to be delayed until there is formalized research governance, such as an international agreement. As a piece of pragmatic policy analysis, this paper explores the practicalities and implications of demands for ‘governance before research’. It concludes that ‘governance before research’ is a desirable goal, but that a delay in experimentation—a moratorium—would probably be an ineffective and counterproductive way to achieve it. Firstly, it is very unlikely that a moratorium could be imposed. Secondly, even if it were practicable it seems that a temporary ban on field experiments would have at best a mixed effect addressing the main risks and concerns, while blocking and stigmatizing safe research and delaying the development of good governance practices from learning by doing. The paper suggests a number of steps to ensure ‘governance before research’ that can be taken in the absence of an international agreement or national legislation, emphasizing the roles of researchers and research funders in developing and implementing good practices.
As understanding of the climate predicament increases among publics, policymakers and researchers, so does interest in solar geoengineering. Also known as solar radiation management (SRM), it is a set of proposals for reducing the rate of global warming, or even cooling the planet, by reflecting a small percentage of inbound sunlight back into space. The most prominent proposals would involve spraying reflective aerosols into the stratosphere to mimic the natural cooling effects of large volcanic eruptions, or increasing the brightness of existing marine stratus clouds to make them more reflective [1–3].
SRM is receiving increasing interest because it could provide a unique climate policy ‘lever’ that cannot be achieved by the traditional options (mitigation and adaptation) [1,2,4]. As the Royal Society notes, solar geoengineering is the only method currently known for dropping the global temperature quickly, meaning it could be a useful tool for addressing some of the climate risk from the decades of warming to which the planet is already committed.
At the same time, solar geoengineering presents its own risks and concerns. Sufficiently large experiments might deplete stratospheric ozone or change weather patterns, for example. There are concerns that research of any scale could have undesired socio-political consequences, such
as a reduced political will for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, or unilateral development of the technology leading to international tensions.
The prospect of SRM therefore presents us with a risk–risk scenario. There are obvious risks from its development, but because SRM potentially represents a unique policy lever in the fight against climate change—one that could protect many of the most vulnerable people and ecosystems until greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations are stabilized at sustainable levels—there are also risks from not developing it. As the stakes are high, it will be important to understand what the potential benefits and risks may be, and research is going to be critical if policymakers are to make well-informed decisions.
Calls for research are not calls to let any research proceed in any fashion, however. At present, most of the physical risks and socio-political concerns associated with the development of SRM are not addressed by formalized national regulations or international agreements [3,5]. As such, they warrant new governance measures to address them.
Section 2 sets a foundation for discussion of SRM research governance by reviewing what is meant by ‘governance’ and ‘international agreement’, and outlining the diversity of possible research projects. Section 3 introduces the main point of discussion: a call made by a range of geoengineering commentators that ‘governance’ is needed, typically in the form of a new international agreement, before outdoors research can proceed. In §4, the implications of this proposal are explored, before §5 reviews the numerous options that are immediately available to researchers, governments and research funders that would establish ‘governance before research’ before the paper concludes in §6.
2. Background: what constitutes ‘governance’, ‘international agreement’ and ‘outdoors research’
Discussions of SRM research governance can be hampered by ambiguities over what the terms ‘research’, ‘international agreement’ and ‘governance’ encompass, as they cover a multitude of different concepts, proposals and activities. This section provides a working definition of governance, clarifies different types of international agreement and reviews some of the different possible SRM research activities to provide a much-needed foundation for analysis later in the paper.
(a) What is meant by ‘governance’?
This paper borrows a definition of governance from Bevir : ‘all processes of governing, whether undertaken by a government, market or network, whether over a family, tribe, formal or informal
organization or territory and whether through laws, norms, power or language’. This definition is chosen as it is broad and inclusive, covering the range of factors and activities that might influence the development of a technology. Although its core governance is concerned with power relations and decision-making, it is not always imposed by governments (for example, professional associations can regulate member behaviour). It can encourage desirable behaviours (such as international research collaboration or sharing of data), as much as preventing undesirable ones. Finally, it is not something that is always formalized through written rules, as when unspoken norms govern academic conduct over publication of results and transparency.
(b) What is meant by ‘international agreement’?
It is common that discussions of SRM governance touch on international agreement, but unless it is specified what kind of agreement is being discussed, matters can become confused. Would international agreement over SRM research have to be negotiated like a UN convention? And must it be a universal agreement, or would a majority of the world’s states be enough? What about a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the research councils of the G8 states—does that constitute international agreement? This paper uses the term ‘international agreement’ to refer to all possible permutations of agreement from bilateralMOU to global treaty, unless specified.
(c) What constitutes outdoors research?
Something that is not always well understood among geoengineering commentators is that there is much SRM research that could be conducted out of doors that would be both useful and physically safe. In 2010, a group of well-respected researchers, writing in Science, argued that geoengineering ‘cannot be tested without full-scale implementation’ . The paper was making the reasonable point that to test some aspects of an SRM system would involve deploying it globally. But the statement has been taken by some to mean that the only outdoors research of value would be risky global-scale deployment of SRM . The statement makes no comment on large number of possible small-scale outdoors experiments on aspects of solar geoengineering, which would be safe and informative and would not have transboundary impacts, let alone global ones.
The following list demonstrates the diversity of characteristics of different possible outdoors research projects, as it is useful to have specific examples in mind when considering SRM governance:1
(a) Observing plant reactions to diffuse light. To understand more about how plant life might respond to an increase in diffuse light from SRM using stratospheric aerosols it would be possible to study flora in areas where there is already an elevated concentration of aerosols from the burning of fossil fuels.
(b) Non-perturbative aerosol observations. Useful information could be gained by studying the meteorological effects of analogues of SRM deployment, such as volcanic eruptions or the millions of tons of sulfates that humanity emits to the troposphere every year.
(c) Testing microphysics of particles injected to the atmosphere. Injecting small amounts of sulfates into the stratosphere could give a clearer understanding of how aerosols might affect stratospheric ozone, for example. There would be little point replicating such tests of microphysical processes on a large scale.
(d) Engineering of delivery system components for an SRM technique. Examples might include testing seawater spray nozzles, high flying jets, or balloon and hose arrangements for delivery of aerosols to the stratosphere.
(e) Perturbative aerosol tests. Perhaps the quintessential example of ‘outdoors research into SRM’, perturbative aerosol tests would involve releasing substances into the air to test their light-scattering properties. This could be done on scales from tiny to full global deployment.
(f) Testing the climatic effects of SRM at a global scale. Testing climatic effects would be done at deployment scale, and could involve turning on and off an SRM system to try to distinguish the impacts from the natural, short-term variability of the chaotic climate system.
Not only is there a wide range of possible studies, but also a wide range of project characteristics that might be relevant to governance (table 1).
It can be useful to call to mind these permutations of tests and traits during discussions of research governance, as they remind that different activities unhelpfully lumped together as ‘field trials’ can have very different risks and implications. Table 1 is not an exhaustive list of tests or traits, but it is a useful demonstration that some experiments would involve environmental perturbation while others would not. There might be scientific reasons to want to scale up some of the research projects until they had international impacts, while others can just as effectively be conducted at small scales. Some tests would demonstrate the potential positives of SRM, others would only seek to characterize and quantify potential drawbacks.
3. Governance before research
In the light of numerous concerns over SRM research, and the dearth of formalized governance mechanisms, the call to delay research until new governance arrangements are in place is a common one. It has been made by prominent opponents of geoengineering [8,10,11] and some of the leading geoengineering researchers [12–14], as well as high profile commentators including the editors of Nature  and former UK Chief Scientific Advisor Sir David King FRS .
A range of different concerns motivate this call. Hamilton  highlights the potential sociopolitical impacts of research, claiming that the greatest risks are moral hazard and a slippery slope that might lead to the technology becoming ‘locked in’ and its use inevitable. For Robock , the physical risks are the primary concern and he argues that research should not be allowed to leave the laboratory until there is a mechanism for determining which projects pose acceptably low physical risks. Schäfer et al.  ask researchers to voluntarily refrain from field tests until there is international agreement as SRM is at heart an international issue. Along with Kruger  and King , they warn that tests without specific governance risk backlash that might delay or prevent further research.
It is not easy to evaluate these general calls for ‘governance’ or ‘agreement’ before ‘research’ because, as noted in §2, these terms are ambiguous. What is meant by Kruger’s ‘experimentation’ for example, or the ‘field tests’ of Schäfer et al.? It is not clear whether these commentators are opposed to activities in category (b) above, such as observing the effects of volcanic eruptions, or whether their main concern is over perturbative, scalable experiments of category (e). Similarly, where Hamilton calls explicitly for ‘governance before research’, must it be government regulation enforced by law, or would a formalized researcher code of conduct suffice?
Despite the ambiguities in these calls, there are some common arguments. From the fact that the authors are calling for a delay in research until there is governance, and none of them calls for currently available ad hoc governance measures to be applied, it is reasonable to infer that these commentators perceive novel challenges from outdoors research and want new formalized governance arrangements to be in place before it can proceed. In addition, the majority implicitly or explicitly call for international agreement before field experimentation can begin, and it seems a reasonable assumption that they mean multilateral convention-style agreement rather than bilateral memoranda of understanding, for example.
4. A research moratorium
The range of people calling for some variant of ‘governance before research’ indicates that this is a view that is widely shared. It warrants closer inspection, however, as it potentially implies a false choice between proceeding with governance and proceeding without, and it risks implying that an international agreement on SRM research is easier to achieve than it is likely to be in practice.
There is an even more significant implication, however, which is that calls for a delay in outdoors experiments until ‘governance’ is in place are de facto calls for a moratorium. Given that there are likely to be numerous barriers to international agreement [16,17], it is probable that it would be a lengthy one. This section explores whether a moratorium would be practicable, and whether delaying research would be effective in addressing the major concerns that commentators have identified.
(a) Is a research moratorium possible?
A moratorium would have to be implemented either through top-down imposition by a governance authority or by widespread bottom-up adoption by researchers. For a voluntary, bottom-up moratorium to prevent outdoors research it would require essentially all researchers to participate. In this regard, a bottom-up moratorium seems an unlikely prospect. Despite some researchers calling for a delay in research, there are few signs that this is a strongly held majority view in the geoengineering research community. In addition, several researchers have already called for field experiments to proceed, indicating there would probably not be universal buy-in [18,19]. However, even if unlikely, a moratorium agreed by a large number of researchers is not inconceivable and itmight undermine the perceived legitimacy of research, and drive away funders, so §5 considers the effectiveness of a moratorium. For a top-down moratorium to be effective it would have to be agreed internationally, as it would be counterproductive if the most responsible counties abstained from research while less scrupulous ones proceeded. An internationally agreed moratorium seems unlikely for three reasons.
Firstly, there is no convention or forum that appears ready and able to enact and enforce a moratorium soon, and it would probably take years to agree even with an institutional home. Some might wonder whether the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which has already agreed high level guidance to restrict the large scale use of geoengineering, might be appropriate. However, the CBD is not a technology governance forum, nor is its remit or expertise in climate change. Were it to ban all outdoors research along the lines of its previous decisions X/33 and XI/20 it would only be banning outdoors research with transboundary impacts that threatens biodiversity [20,21]. Most research into SRM would need to be conducted at a fairly large scale before its impacts were transboundary and a threat to biological diversity. In addition, the country with the largest scientific output—the United States—is not a party to the CBD.
Secondly, even if there were an international forum ready to act to agree a moratorium, it would be necessary to define what is to be banned. Defining what distinguishes SRM research, especially at small scales, can be extremely difficult. Numerous possible research projects on cloud formation, aerosols or radiative forcing would be ‘dual purpose’, in that they would have relevance both to climate change and to solar geoengineering [22,23]. What divides controversial geoengineering research from uncontroversial environmental research can sometimes be the intent of the researchers, and that is hard to police. If the definition of what was to be banned were too loose then those who wanted to research geoengineering could work around it. If it were too strict it would prevent desirable climate research, or ongoing activities such as weather modification (which, regardless of its contested efficacy, is undertaken by a number of states).
Thirdly, even if there were both an institutional home and a strong definition of what to ban, it seems unlikely that some countries, particularly the most powerful ones, would waive the right to do research that is physically benign and has no transboundary impacts. It is clear from experiences with the treaties on nuclear weapons tests (CTBT) or non-proliferation (NPT) that states do not sign or ratify agreements that they do not like, and from the moratorium on whaling that states can work around moratoria where they perceive it is in their interests to do so.
Finally, crucially, the lack of appetite for a research moratorium has twice been demonstrated in the decisions over geoengineering in the CBD. Twice the CBD has come under intense lobbying pressure to ban all outdoors activities, and twice it has agreed that small-scale geoengineering research conducted outdoors is acceptable, while inviting parties to consider ensuring that larger activities do not proceed [20,21]. It is an interesting side question why anti-geoengineering campaigners such as Hamilton and the ETC Group so forcefully demand international agreement before research, but ignore the decision of the 194 parties to the CBD that small-scale outdoors research can proceed.
Owing to the absence of an appropriate international forum, no clear definition of SRM research, and the likelihood that countries could not agree a ban, it seems very probable that a moratorium on outdoors research would be impracticable.
(b) How effective would a moratorium be at managing the risks of solar radiation management?
Setting aside arguments about feasibility, it is not completely inconceivable that some form of internationally agreed or voluntary researcher moratorium could be agreed, and so it is worth considering how effective a short-term ban would be at treating the risks and concerns identified by commentators.
The most obvious concerns may be potential physical risks. However, there are numerous field experiments that could be done without any significant risks of physical harm, and some people feel that the potential socio-political consequences of outdoors research might be of more immediate concern [10,12]. There is not room enough here to do justice to all the possible sociopolitical concerns (see  for a more thorough list), and this paper focuses on three of the most prominent ones: moral hazard, slippery slopes and backlash.
(i) Physical risks
The SRM-specific physical risks from research are likely to take the form of:
(1) changes to local, regional or global radiative forcing, potentially resulting in changes to weather patterns (at larger scales) and
(2) chemical releases into the environment.
If a moratorium were agreed and enforced effectively, there can be little doubt that it would help guard against physical risks. If there is no outdoors research, there is no risk of harm from outdoors research. However, a moratorium would be an unnecessarily crude tool for avoiding physical harm. Section 2 demonstrated that there are many research projects that could help improve understanding of SRM and would have negligible physical risks. Therefore, imposing a maximum size on research projects or potential impacts (such as the conservative limit on radiative forcing change proposed by Parson & Keith ) should be as successful as a moratorium at managing physical risks.
(ii) Moral hazard
The seductive promise that SRM could be a cheap, quick solution to climate change is one of the greatest concerns about its development. It seems inescapable that at least some people will find that the prospect of a techno-fix for global warming—however imperfect—is cause enough to significantly reduce efforts to curb GHG emissions.
‘Moral hazard’ is a vague and ambiguous term, and Hale  demonstrated 16 different ways the concept can be applied to geoengineering. Not wanting to get bogged down in issues of definition, this paper reformulates Hale’s definition of moral hazard, the danger that, in the face of insurance, an agent will increase her exposure to risk, to clarify its application to SRM:
the danger that, in the face of development of SRM, an agent will increase her exposure to a high CO2 world by disproportionately reducing her interest in emissions reductions.2 The question at hand is not whether the development of SRM as a whole itself might engender some form of moral hazard response—it seems inevitable with it will, in some people at some time—but whether delaying outdoors research until there is international agreement would reduce the moral hazard effect.
It is hard to see how it would. A moral hazard response to the development of SRM would at heart be a psychological issue, where people would overestimate the potential of SRM to reduce climate risks. This overestimation could result from a number of possible causes, such as underlying psychological biases and heuristics  or misinformation (deliberate or otherwise) about the benefits and drawbacks of SRM.
However, it is unclear how strong or widespread the moral hazard effect will be, or how much it will be counteracted or even eclipsed by a ‘reverse moral hazard’ effect, where the visible research of geoengineering makes the threat of climate change seem more real, increasing popular will for mitigation and adaptation.3 It is also very hard to see how moral hazard would be regulated by delaying SRM research, or by the establishment of an international agreement. Instead, good policies to address the possible moral hazard effect are likely to lie in addressing people’s understanding of SRM and its potential role in climate policy. Good communication and public engagement around the possible benefits and drawbacks of solar geoengineering could be the most useful tool for reducing moral hazard, not a research ban. Furthermore, if moral hazard is indeed caused by people overestimating the potential of SRM, then arguably what is required is more research—the opposite of amoratorium—to demonstrate the gap between their expectations and reality.
(iii) A slippery slope
The possibility that SRM research might prove a slippery slope is a serious concern. Sometimes referred to as lock-in or sociotechnical lock-in,4 the term ‘slippery slope’ typically describes the idea that small SRM research projects could gather influential backers and political momentum that override societal concerns and lead uncritically onto larger and larger scales of research, and ultimately to deployment. Here it is questioned whether fears of SRM research proving a slippery slope are well founded, and whether delaying outdoors research until international agreement could be an effective way of addressing it.
The process by which small-scale research could lead on to ever-larger projects is easy to imagine, with powerful forces combining to push for further development of the technology. They could include
— large amounts of money being invested in R&D,
— investment of political capital in an idea by influential academics or politicians,
— vested interests and the formation of supporting constituencies,
— development of regulatory frameworks, and
— regulatory capture .
While compelling, this narrative is speculative, and a case study—the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies—shows that the presence of factors that might lead to a slippery slope do not a slippery slope make.
Hamilton , ironically one of the major proponents of the slippery slope idea, draws our attention to the rise and plateau, if not fall, of CCS. Even with
— large amounts of very visible political capital invested in it, up to the level of national leaders,
— billions of dollars invested in its development, by numerous powerful countries,
— widespread R&D programmes and academic support,
— the beginnings of designs of regulatory regimes to manage its roll-out, and
— the very rare combination of support from green NGOs [32–34] and fossil fuel companies ,
there are signs that CCS is in decline . As it has progressed from smaller to larger scales, R&D has demonstrated some of the physical, economic and social shortcomings of the technology and regardless of whether it is in decline or not, it is very hard to argue that we have slipped down a slope to full global deployment.
In addition, findings from public Dialogue underline the weakness of the proposed link between support for SRM research and progression to widespread deployment. Numerous studies have indicated that people distinguish between research and deployment, showing support for the former but significant reservations about the latter [27,37–39].
Of course none of this proves that SRM will not become a slippery slope from research to deployment. It does however demonstrate that slippery slopes are not automatic, even in the overwhelming presence of factors said to cause them, and it weakens the case for a moratorium. Despite the evidence from CCS and public engagement studies, the prospect that SRM research may prove a slippery slope cannot be discounted. One of the problems with slippery slopes is that it is not necessarily possible to recognize them until it is too late to implement policies to address them.5 Therefore, good policies will involve managing risks, and in this paper the question of interest is whether a moratorium would be a more effective policy for stopping a slippery slope than alternatives.
A moratorium would be a form of ‘back stop’ policy, where an upper limit to research size would be imposed by a governance authority, preventing an automatic progression from smaller to larger research projects.
In this regard, it seems likely that an effectively enforced moratorium could be successful at preventing a slippery slope. If no outdoors research were allowed, regardless of scale, then the chances of runaway development would be reduced. However, setting a maximum threshold for research that allowed small-scale projects to proceed, but prevented larger and riskier experiments (e.g. ), could be a more effective back stop than a ban on research outside the laboratory.
This is because, particularly at smaller scales, it is very ambiguous what is SRM research and what is not.6 It would be easy for a researcher or a country that wanted to do geoengineering research to sidestep a moratorium by couching their research in the banal terminology of the atmospheric sciences, circumventing a ban. This could be a serious problem for the effectiveness of a ‘laboratory door’ threshold. The more permeable the threshold is, the more likely it is to break down and crumble away to irrelevance, as with any rule that cannot be enforced. And even if it stopped some projects, the less scrupulous research might well proceed.
However, as outdoors research projects get larger it is likely to be less ambiguous what is a geoengineering project and what is not. A maximum scale for outdoors research of the kind suggested by Parson & Keith  might prove more solid than an ambiguous ‘line in the sand at the laboratory door’  meaning it would be a more enforceable way to check the development of SRM and ensure proper societal approval before research becomes even vaguely physically risky.
Some people are concerned that if field research goes ahead without formalized governance, or additional international agreement, there could be a backlash in public or political opinion that would deter funders from SRM research, and set back the R&D agenda [12,16,41].
This seems a plausible possibility, particularly if the experiences of the SPICE7 project are a guide. Even though the planned balloon experiment met with widespread public disinterest, and focused public engagement sessions found broad support for the experiment as long as it was well governed , it drew well-publicized criticism from a small but vocal fringe of NGOs . Their campaign targeted a government minister rather than the researchers themselves, as it sought to deter policymakers from allowing research to proceed. Similarly, when the Chief Scientific Advisor to President Obama stated simply that he thought geoengineering should not be off the table it caused a media frenzy and he was forced to clarify his position .
The risk of backlash is a strong argument against proceeding with outdoors research. It is predictable that those opposed to SRM would seek to portray any experimentation as dangerous, irresponsible and ungoverned, to try to deter funders or secure a ban on further research.Waiting until there were visible, formalized governance arrangements in place could substantially reduce this effect, and this is one of the strongest arguments for a bottom-up, researcher-led moratorium.
However, as discussed in §4(a), securing an effective moratorium might prove impossible in practice. Therefore, heeding the concerns of those who think research without (new and SRMspecific) governance might cause regulatory backlash, but recognizing that it might be hard to stop research proceeding, the best approach might be for anyone wanting to conduct or fund research to make sure that effective and visible governance mechanisms are in place for all experiments, even if the arrangements are ad hoc for the immediate future. Section 5 below suggests some possible steps forward.
(v) Undesirable impacts and unintended consequences of a moratorium on research Aside from its dubious efficacy at addressing the main risks and concerns of outdoors research, there would probably be a number of undesirable side effects from a moratorium.
— There are risks from delaying learning about SRM. As climate change sets in further and impacts start to be experienced more keenly around the planet, the temptation to deploy SRM is likely to rise. The sooner the limitations of SRM can be understood, the better placed responsible researchers, campaigners and governments will be to oppose any over-exuberant calls for deployment.
— The more that a culture of international cooperation and openness pervade SRM research, the more likely it is that unilateral development or use can be avoided. Such internationalism is more likely to be fostered by cooperative research and research governance than it would by a complete standstill.
— A moratorium would discourage research transparency, as the ambiguity over what constitutes SRM research could be circumvented by describing geoengineering-relevant research as climate research. This would mean that a moratorium might disincentivize honest reporting of research’s relevance to geoengineering. A good policy that is (in part) trying to police intent should not incentivize dishonesty about research motives.
— There is a significant risk that a moratorium on outdoors projects would stigmatize geoengineering research. While some campaigners undoubtedly would see this as a desirable outcome, the fact remains that SRM may be able to reduce some of the worst risks of a warming planet while humanity makes the transition to a low carbon world. Healthy scepticism over SRM is to be welcomed, creation of a taboo is not.
— A moratorium risks premature rejection of SRM, where a potentially useful technology is prevented from research and development by inflexible social and political factors . How long would we be prepared to delay safe outdoors research in order to get (additional) international agreement? If research were banned until a certain condition had been fulfiled, that condition would need to be fairly indisputable or the moratorium could be dragged out. Bodansky  highlights the case of whaling to demonstrate that moratoria can prove difficult to lift even when the scientific and governance issues that
brought about their imposition have been resolved.
In the absence of formalized governance measures that are specific to SRM, seeking to delay outdoors research might appear a prudent and precautionary thing to do. However, it seems highly likely that agreeing a temporary cessation of research would not be practicable, and that even if it were possible it might not be as effective at managing most of the risks and concerns as allowing, but controlling, small field experiments. It would also delay important research and miss out on crucial opportunities to establish good governance practices. Section 5 examines possibilities for moving forward the good governance of SRM research in the absence of international agreement or new national regulations.
5. A proposed way forward
Section 4 discussed how it could prove impractical and ill-advised to delay outdoors SRM research until there is international agreement. It would also be unnecessary, as there is a near-universal international agreement that small-scale SRM research conducted outside the laboratory should be allowed to proceed [20,21].
Even though there is still little formalized governance specific to SRM, it is not a question of proceeding with or without ‘governance’. Before formal research guidelines are developed, it will be necessary to apply the numerous ad hoc options that are currently available. This section looks for practical steps that can be taken immediately to start to develop good governance of SRM, divided into steps for, researchers funders and national governments.
With the greatest knowledge of the science of SRM, researchers are in best position to make initial proposals for maximum thresholds for research scales. They could then work with stakeholders, publics and governance authorities to challenge and refine proposals. However, such thresholds should not simply create ‘allowed zones’ in which research can proceed without additional governance burdens , as these would miss out on opportunities for establishing other good governance practices.
Researchers should consider a professional code of conduct that
— pledges to conduct comprehensive EIAs as a standard procedure of conducting research, even where they are not mandated
— commits to standards of transparency, perhaps with the establishment of a voluntary registry of research projects that could eventually be mandated).
The research community is also best placed to internationalize research, establishing networks with colleagues across disciplines and around the world, and building the capacity of developing country academics to develop their own SRM research programmes. Such international epistemic communities can be instrumental in informing governmental processes, and in the development of international agreements.8 Already this kind of bottom-up international network-building is taking place, with the SRM Governance Initiative9 holding engagement meetings across Africa and Asia, and the annual geoengineering summer schools subsidizing the attendance of numerous promising young researchers from developing countries .
While they are important and necessary, interim bottom-up governance measures should not be intended to delay top-down governance. Unlike some voluntary corporate standards they must not be a plea bargain to reduce regulatory interference, but a step towards effective societal governance of research in a controversial field.
(b) Funding agencies
Research funders might be in the best position to influence good governance of research in the short term, as they can impose ‘top-down’ regulations on projects without needing to wait for new laws. This was demonstrated by the SPICE research project, and in particular its balloon test bed component. The project supposedly took place at a time without any specific geoengineering ‘governance’ and yet SPICE was subject to range of governance measures specific to SRM.
The research councils that funded the project sought to impose a ‘responsible innovation’ model  on SPICE. Researchers had to satisfy an independent panel that governance criteria had been fulfiled before approval for outdoors testing was granted. These stage-gate criteria included:
— managing potential physical risks,
— development of a communication strategy to ensure transparency,
— researcher reflection on possible future implications of their work and SRM itself, and
— stakeholder engagement and public dialogue.
The conditions of the stage gate were rigorous, and the advice of the stage-gate panel caused the balloon test bed to be postponed at one stage. Eventually, the researchers themselves cancelled the experiment owing to concerns over wider governance implications and a possible conflict of interest .
This episode highlighted important lessons for governance: firstly, that neither international agreement nor new national laws were required for there to be strong and specific topdown governance of outdoors SRM experimentation. Secondly, it showed that bottom-up self-management by researchers can produce reflective and responsible decisions.
By working with SRM researchers, other academics and stakeholders, funders are in a strong position to develop innovative governance practices. The communication strategy, researcher reflection and stakeholder dialogues of the ‘responsible innovation’ model applied to SPICE were all important measures for increasing transparency over researcher actions and intentions, which will be crucial for maintaining public trust in SRM research projects. Beyond responsible innovation, research funders may want to look to models developed for the governance of other emerging technologies such as anticipatory governance  and real-time technology assessment  for ideas and approaches for public input into research processes.
Funders are also well-placed to begin internationalization of SRM governance standards, by sharing successes (and failures) with international counterparts, and exploring where bilateral or regional MOUs might be possible. These in turn might prove a foundation for a convention-style agreement on SRM.
(c) National governments
National governments should begin to explore possibilities for a multilateral, convention-style international agreement on SRM research. This paper has argued that a new agreement should not be a precondition for outdoors research to proceed, and that multilateral international agreement will not be the panacea that cures all the potential ills of geoengineering research. This is not to dismiss the useful role international agreements could play in time, however.
Lessons might be learned from the London Convention and Protocol’s (LCLP) decisions on ocean fertilization. Through an agreement in 2010 , the parties to the LCLP created an assessment framework that balances the need for research with the need for trust-building over environmental protection and transparency. The assessment framework requires all parties to ensure any ocean fertilization is a legitimate scientific activity, is subject to environmental impact assessment, and is reported back to the convention. The agreement leaves decisions over what research can proceed to national governments.
Multilateral agreements can be effective at standardizing good practices, can provide an international platform for reporting of national activities (increasing transparency and trust), and can govern areas beyond national jurisdiction (such as the high seas). Wide participation in an agreement can lead to a higher degree of perceived legitimacy in decision-making, and, in the case of SRM, could help establish a forum to discuss, negotiate and agree further governance measures if and when research projects with potential transboundary impacts are proposed.
While many of the features of the LCLP agreement would be desirable for SRM governance, and should be explored, none should be considered vital at this very early stage of research. Additionally, the LCLP agreement shows some of the limitations of consensus-based international agreements, as it lacks the fine-grained specificity to promote positive steps such as stakeholder engagement as part of research design, international research cooperation, local or regional consultation, or researcher reflection on impacts beyond the immediate physical risks.
Therefore, the good governance of SRM research, with measures to address the range of risks and concerns, will probably be developed most effectively on a range of scales, by a range of
To move towards an inclusive and well-informed international agreement, relevant government departments should begin the process of learning about SRM, developing their own programmes of research and governance (particularly cooperative international research) and considering how they want to approach SRM in international negotiations. Foremost is international discussions should be the learning process. While the geoengineering negotiations at the CBD ultimately produced a reasonable agreement, they were characterized by a low level of understanding of geoengineering, especially from some of the parties more vehemently opposed to geoengineering research.10
Where national governments participate in international negotiations or discussions of SRM, they should prioritize:
— designing processes to provide independent expert advice to all parties about the potential benefits, drawbacks and implications of SRM,
— agreeing EIA and transparency standards,
— agreeing what activities are permissible in areas beyond national jurisdiction,
— setting up processes for developing and agreeing a maximum scale of physical impacts to demarcate safe, small-scale research, and
— setting up processes to consider how large-scale research projects should be governed, if they are ever proposed.
I have argued in this paper that research, including small-scale outdoors research, is necessary if we wish to learn more about SRM in order to inform deliberations about larger research projects with physical risks, and even potential use.
Citing concerns about potential physical risks and socio-political impacts, numerous commentators have suggested that outdoors research should not proceed until ’governance’, typically international agreement, is in place. It has been argued here that ‘governance before research’ is a worthy goal, but the delay in research favoured by many prominent commentators—a moratorium—is the wrong tactic for achieving it.
Stopping all outdoors experimentation is probably not a realistic possibility because there is no obvious international forum to enact such a ban, no definition of what is to be banned, and no indication that powerful states would voluntarily waive their rights to do research that had no international impacts.
Even if amoratorium could be imposed, it would probably be less effective at addressing most of the risks than allowing (but controlling) outdoors experimentation, using the ad hoc governance measures already available to policymakers. On top of doubts over its effectiveness, amoratorium would both prevent and stigmatize research that is safe and useful, and it would incentivize anyone wishing to research SRM to be dishonest about their work’s intent and implications. By allowing safe research to proceed it should be possible to develop good governance practices, and lay the foundation for international agreement. All of this ‘learning by doing’ would be delayed indefinitely by a research moratorium.
A number of steps can be taken to move forward the governance of research. Researchers are best placed to develop proposals for defining small, safe research, which in time could become codified at national or international levels. They should also (continue to) build cooperativeinternational networks, and (continue to) conduct interdisciplinary research to understand the complex socio-political context in which SRM is developing. Research funders should be encouraged to invest in SRM research and to impose good practices on projects they fund. These might include stage gates, EIAs, stakeholder dialogue and measures to ensure transparency. National governments should start or continue to learn about SRM and explore possibilities for multilateral international agreement.
International agreement is not required for small-scale research to be governed well and is not appropriate for governing some aspects of SRM. It will have a useful role to play, however, especially if research projects get larger, and it should not be sidelined by ad hoc governance and researcher-led governance initiatives. Standardizing good practices, agreeing transparency mechanisms and controlling activities in areas beyond national jurisdiction are all functions well suited to international agreements. Indeed, some form of agreement should be mandatory before research with transboundary impacts takes place.
It seems likely—and desirable—that good governance of SRM will be developed by a range of actors across a range of scales. Gains are likely to be incremental and may come through trial and error and experimentation, but there seems little to be gained by delaying safe and informative research. And with decades of warming still to come from the CO2 already released to the atmosphere, and climate impacts already starting to be felt around the world, potentially there is much to be gained from proceeding with care.
I thank David Keith, Josh Horton, Masahiro Sugiyama, Jesse Reynolds and Jack Stilgoe for their very helpful comments on the drafts of this paper, and the fellows and faculty of the Science, Technology and Public Policy Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs for their wise input along the way.
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