Climate Engineering

In short

Climate Engineering represents a branch of technologies – from carbon capture, usage and storage to solar geoengineering – that could mitigate human-induced climate change. Some of the key ethical concerns surrounding these technologies include irreversibility, social inequality and transparency (for example, its imposition on some communities or countries that may not choose them) and responsibility towards future generations.

More about Climate Engineering

Climate Engineering (or geoengineering) technologies can help mitigate climate change on a local and worldwide scale and detect and respond to global threats due to the climate crisis. They represent a group of technologies that act on the Earth’s climate system by reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and other anthropic emissions or directly changing physical or chemical processes in the biosphere to achieve direct control of climate.

This technology family includes, for example, technologies for carbon capture, usage, and storage (CCUS) that might help reduce anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, with consequences on the planet’s temperature regulation. Solar geoengineering technologies are another example, raising the possibility of modifying the biosphere’s interaction with solar radiation by creating a dense cloud of particles in the stratosphere to reflect part of the solar radiation.

Despite their high research and industrial relevance, ethical concerns arise around these technologies: who can access them? Will these technologies have an effect locally or globally, and who is going to decide about them? What could be the future environmental consequences of their applications?

Ethical, legal and societal challenges

TechEthos is concentrating its efforts on understanding the ethical, societal and legal consequences of Climate Engineering technologies – bringing on board the concerns of different groups of actors and looking at technologies from different perspectives.

Ethical issues

At this stage of the project, TechEthos partners have completed a scan of ethical guidance (in the form of codes, guidelines and frameworks) that already exists specifically for Climate Engineering or considered relevant in ethical discussions on this technology family. They have also looked at some key ethical principles – autonomy, integrity, freedom, human rights, and privacy – and how they manifest in the academic literature on Climate Engineering. The following is a short summary of the findings of the ‘Methodology for ethical analysis, scan results of existing ethical codes and guidelines’ report, which can be accessed in full via the button below.

Autonomy: The literature discusses citizens’ rights, abilities and choice to participate in Climate Engineering, including as potential subjects of research into the effects of Climate Engineering technologies.

Freedom: This issue is referenced in the literature mostly in relation to freedom of research, rather than broader issues of human freedom, e.g., to live independently.

Human rights: Researchers are calling for the identification of human rights that may be affected by Climate Engineering interventions, starting with the right to research and benefits deriving from it.

Integrity: The practice of integrity in scientific research on Climate Engineering is mentioned by a number of documents as essential in order to benefit from freedom to research.

Privacy: This issue emerges in particular when it comes to communicating and making available Climate Engineering research. Because of the potential militarisation of Climate Engineering research, an interesting issue is the concern of keeping dual-use Climate Engineering research private.

Please note that work is ongoing on this topic and the contents of this section will be updated as more information becomes available.

Read the report
Legal issues and challenges

TechEthos is reviewing the current state of the law and policy responses related to Climate Engineering, as evidenced in policy, legislation, case law and regulation at the international, European and national (through nine national case studies) levels. We are looking at existing and proposed legal frameworks, as well as current legal debates about the future of legal governance. Our research will focus on legal issues with significant human rights and socio-economic impacts that are of high policy relevance, particularly in the European context. Through this research, we will be able to identify gaps and challenges in existing law, and propose ways to enhance legal frameworks for the future.

Work is ongoing and further details of this analysis will be available in the summer of 2022.

Media discourse

Media discourse on technologies both reflects and shapes public perceptions. As such, it is a powerful indicator of societal awareness and acceptance of these technologies. TechEthos is carrying out an analysis of the discourses on Climate Engineering in 13 EU and non-EU countries (Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, UK, and USA). The media analysis will complement insights into public awareness and perception obtained by engaging with members of the public.

Work is ongoing and further details of this analysis will be available in June 2022.

Applicable rules and guidance

TechEthos is considering the state of ethical and legal guidance and frameworks and will identify areas for improvement and make recommendations.

Ethical guidelines, frameworks and codes

At this stage of the project, TechEthos partners have completed a scan of ethical guidance (in the form of codes, guidelines and frameworks) that already exists specifically for Climate Engineering or which are considered relevant in ethical discussions on this technology family. The following is a short summary of the findings of the ‘Methodology for ethical analysis, scan results of existing ethical codes and guidelines’ report, which can be accessed in full via the button below.

Ethical codes are mentioned by several academic and other research organisations. Several sources address their insufficiency and the lack of awareness about such codes among private entities engaging in Climate Engineering research. They argue for the responsibility of researchers themselves but also that of funders regarding compliance with ethical codes. The inter-governmental Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries is mentioned as a potential example upon which to develop such a code, which should be flexible enough to account for changing needs.

Ethical frameworks have been referenced in the academia, with researchers calling on the international community to engage in a dialogue regarding the social benefits and risks of Climate Engineering research given the lack of a generally-accepted framework. Some of the issues that come up are that frameworks should be clearly defined and delimited, and acknowledge the systemic impact of such technology families. Some of the existing frameworks mentioned as relevant for Climate Engineering (research) are the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Earth System Governance (ESG) Research Framework, and the Precautionary Decision-Making Framework (PDMF).

Ethical guidelines for Climate Engineering per se are lacking, according to the literature, especially given the scale of intervention of such technologies. While these are being developed, some researchers are calling on the use of guidelines from the broader literature on ethics for research on human and animal subjects.

Read the report
Legal frameworks

TechEthos is reviewing the current state of the law and policy responses related to Climate Engineering, as evidenced in policy, legislation, case law and regulation at the international, European and national (through nine national case studies) levels. We are looking at existing and proposed legal frameworks, as well as current legal debates about the future of legal governance. Our research will focus on legal issues with significant human rights and socio-economic impacts that are of high policy relevance, particularly in the European context. Through this research, we will be able to identify gaps and challenges in existing law, and propose ways to enhance legal frameworks for the future.

Work is ongoing and further details of this analysis will be available in the summer of 2022.

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TechEthos has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement no. 101006249. This website and its contents reflect only their authors' view. The Research Executive Agency and the European Commission are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.