Thursday, February 13, 2014

Who Should Pay for Solar Geoengineering Liability?

I have been conducting research on the problem of liability and compensation in the context of solar geoengineering, that is, how would the international community address damages resulting from large-scale testing or deployment of SRM?  This is a multifaceted problem, and one of its most difficult aspects would be determining who should pay for such damages.  One solution that has suggested itself is to set up an international compensation fund financed by the fossil fuel industry.  Since any damages caused by SRM would essentially be the negative side effects of a response measure intended to remediate harms caused by excessive fossil fuel use, and fossil fuel companies have been the primary direct beneficiaries of this activity, it stands to reason that they should be the ones to pay for its cleanup.  This is precisely how the international oil spill liability regime works--the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Funds, financed exclusively by oil companies, have paid out more than $700 million in compensation since 1978, while the frequency and severity of oil spills have fallen dramatically.

A recent report by Richard Heede titled Carbon Majors identifies precisely who these fossil fuel companies are and how much climate damage they have contributed.  Here is a table from the report listing the top twenty worst offenders:
This is hardly a definitive assessment of the carbon legacy of coal, oil, and gas producers, but it is a good start, and provides a valuable quantitative estimate of contributions to cumulative carbon and methane emissions.  Such estimates could conceivably form the basis of formulas to determine "carbon major" contributions to a solar geoengineering liability compensation fund.