Regulating Geoengineering in International Environmental Law

Geoengineering can be viewed in two ways: as a potential cause for further environmental harm or as an option for addressing climate change in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. So far, the existing legal response in multilateral environmental agreements has been in the former domain. This article shows that this approach does not necessarily provide comprehensive legal regulation of geoengineering as it appears to leave many governance and regulatory gaps. At the same time, developing a new legal instrument on geoengineering does not seem to be feasible for a number of political and other reasons. Therefore, we propose that the most appropriate option for the time being would be to continue with the current approach but enhance inter-regime cooperation and interaction. The article discusses possible formats for such regime cooperation.

Problem solving is one of the key functions of international law. In the environmental field, various approaches have been developed to deal with specific problems. In some cases the identification of a particular environmental problem is straightforward, for instance, in the case of marine or air pollution, and this points to a clear problem-solving strategy – reducing the amount of pollutants. In other cases defining a problem is more challenging or even controversial, and hence how to solve it remains unclear. The latter appears to be the case in relation to geoengineering. Geoengineering is most commonly defined as a large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system in order to moderate global warming without actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Geoengineering techniques can be divided into two groups: carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and solar radiation management (SRM) techniques. While CDR techniques aim to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, SRM approaches seek to reflect a certain portion of the Sun’s light and heat back into the space. The purpose of geoengineering activities is therefore to cool the Earth’s climate. However, some geoengineering techniques carry unknown and potentially large risks for the environment. There is also a concern that some nations might use these techniques to manipulate the climate for their own benefit.

So far, geoengineering has been regarded mainly as a potential problem rather than a management tool option for addressing climate change in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to climate change impacts. This article shows that this approach does not provide a comprehensive legal response to geoengineering, leading to governance and regulatory gaps. In doing so, the article first gives a brief overview of the existing general rules of international law and international environmental law applicable to geoengineering as well as of the specific rules adopted so far under the London Convention/London Protocol and Convention for Biological Diversity. The article then shows how regulating geoengineering activities through existing environmental protection regimes may lead to a governance and legal landscape that is fragmented, incoherent and incomprehensive. It concludes with the discussion on possible options for enhancing inter-regime cooperation to fill resulting regulatory gaps.

Copyright: © Lexxion Verlagsgesellschaft mbH
Source: Issue 03/2013 (September 2013)
Pages: 7
Price: € 41,65
Autor: Prof. Dr. Tuomas Kuokkanen
Dr. Yulia Yamineva

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