Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Can "Enlightened Capitalism" Geoengineer?

Sir Richard Branson has declared that "enlightened capitalism" must play a leading role in constructing arrangements to govern geoengineering research. Is this the case? There are many philosophical, moral, ethical, and political arguments against commercial participation in climate engineering, particularly SRM. Whatever their various merits, the intensity of opposition to commercial involvement in SRM research is a good reason, from a practical political point of view, to consider excluding private firms from initial research and development. If deployment becomes necessary, multilateral consensus will be essential to successful implementation. For better or worse, commercial participation would present one of the most significant threats to such a consensus.

Apart from the political aspect, private capital has so far failed to drive any serious advances in geoengineering research. In 2007, Branson organized the Virgin Earth Challenge offering $25 million to any inventor of practicable CDR technology. The contest has attracted problematic entries and suffered numerous other setbacks, and the prize money has not been awarded. Time will tell, but the market may be the wrong way to pioneer climate engineering.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

ETC Group Behaving Badly

In the days since adoption of the CBD moratorium, the ETC Group has made a series of misleading statements and patently false assertions in what appears to be an attempt to steamroll advocates of geoengineering research. The following is one such comment from Diana Bronson, ETC Group Program Manager:

“There are many complex reasons which explain why the UNFCCC is a such a disappointing failure in terms of emissions reduction … But the failure of a specific international mechanism to achieve results in a given time frame is not a reason to give up on multilateralism altogether.”

It is ridiculous to suggest that supporters of research into geoengineering are in favor of abandoning multilateral solutions to the problem of climate change. To the contrary, scientists, policymakers, and most others amenable to intervention strategies strongly back international arrangements to govern research and possible deployment. This is common knowledge in the field and ETC Group is certainly aware of it. ETC Group discredits itself and its message when it resorts to twisting facts and misrepresenting opposing views.

Monday, November 1, 2010

More Momentum for Geoengineering

Following on from yesterday's alternative perspective on the CBD moratorium (see "The Meaning of the Moratorium," 10/31), several other recent developments suggest that geoengineering is in fact gathering momentum among scientists and policymakers:
  • Last month, the London Convention/London Protocol on ocean dumping adopted an Assessment Framework to facilitate research on ocean fertilization (see "LC/LP Agrees on Ocean Fertilization AssessmentFramework," 10/19).
  • Last week, the co-chair of IPCC Working Group 1 (WG1) confirmed that the panel will formally consider geoengineering next year in preparation for the Fifth Assessment Report due in 2014. This follows multiple indications that the IPCC is growing more open to the idea of climate intervention (see "More Pachauri," 10/18).
  • The US House Committee on Science and Technology released a report calling for significantly greater research on geoengineering. This report was the result of a series of hearings the committee held on different aspects of climate engineering, in conjunction with a UK House of Commons inquiry.
  • In response to a request by Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a comprehensive report titled "Climate Change: A Coordinated Strategy Could Focus Federal Geoengineering Research and Inform Governance Efforts."

This is hardly an exhaustive list, yet it underscores the extent to which geoengineering is gaining in legitimacy and credibility, and the speed with which this is occurring. Those who celebrate the new moratorium as a repudiation of geoengineering not only misread the CBD decision, but look past the mounting evidence that climate intervention is going mainstream.