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The Politics of Geoengineering

Tuesday, 7 May 2013, 14:30 - 18:00

The Open University, 1-11 Hawley Crescent, Camden Town, London, NW1 8NP, Room 6

A workshop on the politics behind the different 'geoengineering' options.

This workshop will explore the social-political cleavages that can be expected from geoengineering techniques and what existing options might they resemble.


As greenhouse gas emissions rise ever faster and scientists point to signs of abrupt climate change previously assumed to be gradual or distant prospects, plans to research and possibly deploy techniques to directly manipulate global temperatures or extract CO2 from the atmosphere – geoengineering – are entering policy discourse.

However, despite its global implications, only a relatively narrow set of actors have so far been engaged in geoengineering debates. Also, current evaluations have tended to lump too many different technologies together, have been overwhelmingly technical and framed in terms of an emergency and the assumed failure of mitigation. As a result they are not necessarily measured against wider criteria of feasibility or in relation to portfolios of mitigation and adaptation. As a result, policy-makers, NGOs and the public have only limited sources of ideas about how such a future global politics of governing the climate may unfold and potentially interact with traditional strategies of mitigation and adaptation.


Normally geoengineering methods are grouped according to technical differences (SRM and CDR, for example), but how would they cluster in terms of the politics? Some are territorial while others rest on the commons. What analogues exist from earlier debates – e.g. is air capture similar to wind power in it requiring apparatus to be set up in certain places? Will governing stratospheric particle injection as a ‘last resort’ be similar to governing the spread of nuclear weapons as a ‘last resort’ tool reserved for a few ‘responsible’ powers?

This workshop aims get begin to get at the question of what the politics of different ‘geoengineering’ options might have in store for us. The aim is not necessarily to sort technologies into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ at this stage, but rather to begin to group them according to the political challenges they pose. What social-political cleavages can be expected – and what existing options might they resemble? There is obviously a big difference between what political impulses stratospheric particle injection and – say - biochar or afforestation options might mobilize.

Convenor: Olaf Corry


This events is by invitation only.