A Matter of Scale: Regional Climate Engineering and the Shortfalls of Multinational Governance

Debates over climate engineering governance tend to assume this technology is an all-or-nothing affair that produces inherently global effects which intentionally can reachany nation or population. With the emergence of possible regional climate engineering methods that seek to limit their effects to relatively local areas, this governance debate may find itself left behind in some instances by disruptively novel technological options. If so, regional climate engineering may fit better under a combination of local transnational mechanisms and bilateral treaties rather than the existing broad-scale multinational frameworks available under multilateral treaties such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The growing interest in climate engineering strategies has sparked a fierce debate over the best ways to govern research, deployment and legal responsibilities for possible damages caused by those technologies. These debates often share a common premise: climate engineering systems will strive to cause global effects that could potentially and unexpectedly injure nations and populations in far-flung and vulnerable locations. Given this assumption, most proposals to regulate or control climate engineering have focused on (i) crafting multilateral agreements to impose binding obligations on a broad community of consenting governments, (ii) establishing principles of international law to determine liability for damages prior to engaging in any climate engineering activity, and (iii) delineating duties under international human rights law to limit research or activities that would harm protected indigenous populations or ecological resources.

Technology, however, may soon outstrip the implicit assumptions of the current debate. Rather than requiring the use of solar radiation management strategies or carbon reduction techniques to affect planetary surface temperatures or atmospheric stocks of greenhouse gases, new climate engineering approaches might allow attempted alterations of climate on a regional level. For example, climate engineering technologies on this scale potentially could seek to protect especially vulnerable polar regions or preserve precipitation cycles that supply critical water supplies over subcontinental or regional areas. Notably, while these techniques would focus on creating climate effects within a particular region, this local focus would not preclude the possibility of unanticipated consequences outside the targeted region. While limited goals and scope of regional climate engineering will likely pose difficulties for emerging climate governance frameworks suited for global efforts, this focused approach may open new ways to regulate climate engineering research through a cumulative bottom-up governance approach that would rely on networks of regional treaties, agreements and resolutions rather than a sweeping international convention.



Copyright: © Lexxion Verlagsgesellschaft mbH
Source: Issue 03/2013 (September 2013)
Pages: 9
Price: € 41,65
Autor: Prof. Dr. Tracy D. Hester

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