--> The US National Academies on Solar Geoengineering Research and Governance – Jesse Reynolds / international & technology environmental policy

Originally published at Legal Planet as “Four Emmett Institute scholars react to an important new report

The US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine recently issued an important report Reflecting Sunlight: Recommendations for Solar Geoengineering Research and Research Governance.

The National Academies’ report strikes the right tone, particularly considering the committee’s difficult, if not controversial, mandate. It foregrounds solar geoengineering’s apparent ability to reduce climate change while noting that solar geoengineering could also introduce its own risks, governance challenges, and ethical objections. The suggested research program is (and should be) quite small relative to efforts toward other climate responses, would include and integrate diverse disciplines, and should aim to generate policy-relevant knowledge—not a path toward implementation.

A couple of the specific recommendations resonated with me. First, the report recognizes that, in the absence of state action, diverse nonstate actors—scientists, their research institutions, funders, publishers, and professional societies—can and should play important governing roles in the meantime:

Recommendation 5.1b Funders of SG [solar geoengineering] research—including government agencies, universities, and philanthropic organizations—should mandate as a condition of funding that SG research adhere to an accepted code of conduct or, if no code has yet been accepted.

This echoes what my Emmett colleague Ted Parson and I wrote last year: that these actors have the capacity, knowledge, and interests, for example, to help enable high-quality research as well as to control potential harms and risks via the development, monitoring, and enforcement of norms, guidelines, and standards. Second, the report says that “SG researchers should pledge not to assert patents relating to SG against other researchers who are conducting related research.” This is based on a pair of papers by Jorge Contreras (University of Utah), Joshua Sarnoff (DePaul University), and me. There, we describe how a bottom-up “research commons” centered on “patent pledges” could manage several issues in this space while maintaining scientists’ and inventors’ incentives to innovate.

Finally, the recommendations’ are remarkably international. Granted, that scale was part of the committee’s task. Nevertheless, international aspects—variously cooperating, coordinating, consulting, and co-developing—are prominent even in the report’s highest level statements. For example:

Recommendation 4.1…The [research] program should, from the outset, prioritize development of international coordination and co-development of research with other countries.

Recommendation 5.1 A U.S. national solar geoengineering research program should operate under robust research governance and support the development or designation of an international governance mechanism.

This is notable because the US has been accused—sometimes fairly, sometimes not—of dodging if not undermining international cooperation and governance—including in matters of the environment, climate change, and geoengineering. Some critics purport that solar geoengineering is prone to unilateral action, especially by superpowers, and that the National Academies’ report is an indication that the US intends to push and control this issue. In contrast, the report’s recommended early international cooperation would foster trust and help prevent conflict. Hopefully this outlook remains as Congress, agencies, and nonstate actors consider and take up the committee’s recommendations.


1 2 3 7
November 12th, 2021

Moving Solar Geoengineering Research Forward

Three essays in Science aim to take concerns seriously and constructively Solar geoengineering research is not dormant, but it has […]

November 3rd, 2021

Two kinds of international law

Minimal corporate tax rates and environment-as-a-human-right have something in common, other things not. Two developments last month demonstrate the breadth […]

October 26th, 2021

A Proposal to Link Solar Geoengineering and Mitigation

Solar geoengineering–long feared to undermine emissions cuts–may be able to enhance them The leading concern about solar geoengineering–proposed technologies to […]

August 24th, 2021

What If Someone Just Does It?

A scenario exercise on unauthorized use of solar geoengineering This post is co-authored with Edward A. Parson, and also published […]

July 13th, 2021

Earth System Interventions for Sustainability

We actively shape major Earth systems, with increasingly powerful technologies. We should face up to it. Also published at Legal […]

June 4th, 2021

Another Historic Climate Court Ruling in the Netherlands

A court orders Shell to cut its emissions, including of its consumers. But will this stand after appeal? Originally posted […]

May 5th, 2021

Genetically Modifying Wild Species: Could We? Should We?

Originally published in Trends (the electronic newsletter of the Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources of the American Bar Association) […]

April 22nd, 2021

Offering “Carrots” to Protect the Amazon

Brazil asks for a billion dollars to slow deforestation. Would this be cooperation or extortion? Originally posted at Legal Planet. […]

April 6th, 2021

The US National Academies on Solar Geoengineering Research and Governance

Originally published at Legal Planet as “Four Emmett Institute scholars react to an important new report“ The US National Academies […]

March 16th, 2021

“NIABYs” Obstruct Important Climate Change Research

Some activists say “not in my backyard,” but strident opponents of solar geoengineering argue “not in anyone’s backyard.” Originally posted […]