By Jon Turney
Climate Engineering Conference 2014 18-21 August, Scandic Hotel at Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, Germany
Critical Global Discussions
Climate engineering is rapidly becoming a contentious issue within political, scientific, and cultural discussions of climate change, in part due to a perceived lack of progress on crucial emission reductions. The recently released IPCC WG1 report suggests that without swift and dramatic mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, global warming could easily exceed the internationally promoted upper limit of 2°C, creating risks which may prove intolerable. Climate engineering may be a dangerous distraction from the hard work required to reduce emissions to near zero. But global emission rates have not even started to decline, and RCP 2.6, the IPCC scenario that is associated with a 50-90% chance of staying below the 2°C threshold within the 21st century, assumes large-scale deployment of negative emissions technologies in addition to rapid investment in mitigation and widespread use of bio-energy. Indeed, to stay within this temperature threshold, the IPCC estimates that the maximum amount of carbon added to the atmosphere through anthropogenic emissions cannot exceed about 1,000 gigatons – 510 of which were already emitted by 2011, with currently about 10 more gigatons being added each year.
Are climate engineering approaches fatally prone to error and misuse, and worth excluding from the climate conversation on both practical and moral grounds? Are they an emergency measure which could have far-reaching and unpredictable consequences if deployed? Could they be a relatively straightforward remedy for some of the consequences of climate change? And how should research aimed at these questions be regulated?
These questions, and many others raised by the prospect of climate engineering, involve diverse ethical, social, political and technical issues which are extraordinarily complex and incredibly interlinked. However, the research, policy, and civic communities have had few opportunities to collectively engage with the subject across a wide range of viewpoints. The organizers of this conference hope to provide a forum for vigorous exchange and creative dialogue, to bring new voices into these critical global discussions, and to examine how climate engineering intersects with other topics both within and outside of the climate change discussion.
The conference will take place in August 2014, five years after the U.K. Royal Society’s 2009 assessment of the science, governance, and uncertainty of climate engineering broadened the conversation. The 2010 Asilomar International Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies represented the first attempt by the academic community to generate research guidelines, but new governance proposals and initiatives have since proliferated. International governance for climate engineering is advancing rapidly in the case of marine activities; however, there has not been significant advance in international governance regarding atmospheric activities beyond what is accepted as customary international law. National and multinational projects include the German Research Foundation (DFG) Priority Programme on climate engineering, the EU-funded “European Transdisciplinary Assessment of Climate Engineering” (EuTRACE), the Oxford-based Climate Geoengineering Governance Project (CGG), the Geoengineering Model Intercomparison Project (GeoMIP), and others. Privately funded research projects with varying degrees of rigor, transparency and legitimacy are also being conducted, although a public registry of them does not yet exist.
The conference comes at an important moment in the governance of climate engineering and climate change in general:
- The upcoming IPCC assessment report, which will be published in stages across 2013 and 2014, will address climate engineering, likely leading to a significant increase in both scientific discussion and popular media coverage of the subject;
- The climate negotiations for a post-Kyoto regime ought to be finalized in 2015. The role of climate engineering in this process is undefined, yet particularly negative emission technologies may become relevant to achieve the agreed-upon political targets.
- Many ongoing projects will have concluded or reached milestones shortly before the 2014 conference, including CGG, EuTRACE, the first phase of GeoMIP, the first year of the DFG Priority Programme, and the second year of the SCRiM (Sustainable Climate Risk Management) assessment of how best to balance mitigation, adaptation, and geoengineering strategies.
- Multiple studies by various governmental agencies, such as the US Government Accountability Office, the German Federal Environmental Agency and Federal Ministry of Education and Research, or various Parliamentary committees for technology assessment, will have been drafted or prepared, and the agencies involved will be planning their next steps.
The conference will provide a thorough and timely update on these (and other) developments in the field. The large-conference format can represent this rapidly expanding and evolving community, in its diversity and complexity of backgrounds and opinions, better than the smaller events such as workshops or week-long “schools” which have served as gathering points so far. CEC14 will also serve as an opportunity for a diverse audience of policy-makers, civil society organizations, and members of the public to critically engage with and expand upon current research which they would otherwise have little access to.
The overarching objectives of CEC14 are:
- to address comprehensively and in a balanced manner the technical, geophysical/geochemical, ethical, and social contexts in which the idea of engineering the climate is being contemplated
- to bring together the diverse stakeholders involved in the debate – including academic researchers and representatives from the policy and civil society communities and from geographically and culturally diverse backgrounds – in order to promote transparency and dialogue;
- to provide a forum to (1) review the current state of the debate, (2) present and discuss recent research results, and (3) scope key research questions and challenges for academia and society, covering both solar radiation management (SRM) and carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies;
- to provide a forum for innovative session formats aimed at addressing the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary complexity of the issue;
- to provide a platform for exchange, networking, and collaboration across disciplines, sectors (particularly academia, policy and civil society), geographical regions, cultures, and generations; and
- to explore the value of a large-scale conference held on a semi-regular basis as an appropriate forum for the emerging field of climate engineering.