Sunday, December 5, 2010

Where Do the Major Powers Stand?

Geoengineering is still in its infancy, and policies are nearly nonexistent, but given growing interest and gathering momentum, it is intriguing to attempt to assess the state of world opinion on climate engineering. More precisely, what are the views of the major powers of today (and tomorrow) on the subject of geoengineering? This exercise is inescapably speculative and subjective, and ultimately rests on nothing more than informed judgments. But since these powers would play essential roles in any international deployment scenario, it is worthwhile to try to elucidate their emerging positions.

US – The US is best regarded as guardedly open to the idea of geoengineering. Particularly over the last year, geoengineering has gained currency in influential policy circles, both liberal and conservative. The House Science and Technology Committee inquiry into geoengineering, starting in 2009, helped raise the profile of climate intervention and stimulated the production of multiple CRS, GAO, and Committee reports. Conservatives based at AEI are pushing the concept, and a growing number of leading environmental groups such as NRDC and EDF have begun to constructively engage with climate engineering. The bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy is preparing to release a report on geoengineering rumored to be sympathetic to intervention. For the moment, organized and effective opposition to geoengineering in the US is insignificant.

China – The opacity of China’s political system makes it more difficult to gauge internal views on geoengineering, but available evidence indicates receptiveness to climate intervention strategies. The majority of Chinese leaders are engineers by training, which suggests a mechanistic mindset comfortable with manipulative system frameworks. Large-scale public projects such as the Three Gorges Dam and Olympics weather modification demonstrate the predominance of this interventionist mentality. China was one of the few countries to resist adoption of the CBD moratorium, and spoke out strongly in favor of geoengineering research.

Russia – Russian opinion on geoengineering can be described as undecided. Many Russian elites believe that Russia will benefit from climate change, gaining from increased agricultural productivity, increased access to Arctic oil and gas resources, etc. However, the wildfires that engulfed the country over the summer appear to have checked such enthusiasm, with renewed vows to combat global warming coming from both president and prime minister. Given the hierarchical nature of Russian government, it is noteworthy that Yuri Izrael, former vice chair of the IPCC and the first scientist to conduct SRM field experiments, is an influential adviser to Prime Minister Putin. Russia was also one of the handful of states prepared to question the appropriateness of the CBD moratorium.

Europe – Europe is conflicted over climate engineering. The UK is at the forefront of geoengineering research and related policy considerations. The Royal Society has played a preeminent role in framing the public discussion of geoengineering, and leads the way on international regulatory issues with its SRM Governance Initiative (SRMGI). House of Commons hearings were held in conjunction with US House hearings, DEFRA and the Met Office have engaged the issue, and the government provides support to the IAGP and SPICE projects. In Germany, a strong Green Party is skeptical of climate engineering, yet the German government co-sponsored LOHAFEX. In France, a powerful neo-Luddite anti-globalization streak colors national politics, but this may be counterbalanced by the tradition of state dirigisme. The EU itself was divided on the recent moratorium, but continues to fund limited research on geoengineering.

India – India appears unresolved on climate engineering. Predictions that sulfate aerosol injections will disrupt seasonal monsoons have raised serious concerns among Indian leaders, and prominent activists such as Vandana Shiva have spoken out against geoengineering. However, India’s unique vulnerabilities to climate change, and anticipated high costs of adaptation, also affect national calculations. Rajendra Pachauri is held in high esteem, and Pachauri has signaled growing if circumspect openness to climate engineering. The Indian government was also a co-sponsor of the LOHAFEX project.

Japan – First indications are that Japan is amenable to geoengineering. Concepts of adaptive management and purposeful intervention, implicit in the idea of geoengineering, accord well with traditional Japanese constructions of nature and notions of environmental stewardship and instrumentality. The Japanese government voiced public worry about the potentially negative impact of the CBD ban. And Japan has a lively history of challenging Western environmental orthodoxy (e.g., bans on ivory trading, whaling, etc.), an orthodoxy which for now must be regarded as anti-geoengineering.

Comments on these characterizations are welcomed.

1 comment:

  1. This is a nice breakdown of possible acceptance levels for the different principal players. It appears that you put a good deal of work into synthesizing each countries geopolitical background and even cultural views. It would be nice to see you revisit this post each December and expand it with updated current events.

    Thanks again.