Project Outline

The project “The Global Governance of Climate Engineering” analyses various climate engineering (or geoengineering) proposals from an interdisciplinary viewpoint and with regard to a global political regulation. The graduate college is designed to conjoin different scientific disciplines to answer the following research questions: Which technologies are feasible from a scientific and economic viewpoint? How do discourses on benefits and risks evolve and how is the issue taken on by the media? How are the suggestions debated within international institutions and how are decisions made on research and implementation? The involved disciplines comprise Human Geography, Philosophy, Political Economy, Political Science, Psychology, Law, Environmental Physics and Economics.

Climate engineering or geoengineering denotes scientific concepts aiming at manipulating the global climate system either by intervening in the global carbon cycle or by shielding solar radiation. The former comprises a number of means to address the cause of global warming: ocean fertilisation, chemical CO2 capture, or massive reforestation may reduce the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases. Approaches of the latter aim at the reduction of solar radiation to mitigate the consequences of climate change: techniques such as seeding clouds, the deployment of sulfur particles into the stratosphere, or even installing mirrors in space are promising means to reduce global surface temperatures. The different concepts vary greatly in terms of technical feasibility, efficacy, costs and risks.

As a potential measure to support efforts in the fight against climate change, climate engineering has increasingly attracted the attention of scientists, political decision-makers, the media, and the public over the last years. At the centre of current debates is the ambivalent character of the technologies as they combine both benefits and risks in terms of unintended consequences. Both are subject to different perceptions and evaluations by individuals, societies, and states. By the same token, a critical discussion can be seen as symptomatic of the global risk society of the 21st century that is confronted with the complex choice between technological possibilities, incalculable risks and political and social acceptance.

Such complex risk constellations require multilateral cooperation towards an appropriate risk-benefit sharing. However, a global cooperation is exacerbated by the uncertainty concerning the risks of geoengineering and by the world community’s economic and political fragmentation. Moreover, so far there are no legal or political agreements addressing the application of geoengineering measures.

Not only the question of intergovernmental cooperation is highly relevant, but also the involvement of societal and economic protagonists in terms of global governance. The project sees itself as a contribution to an active debate on benefits and risks of various geoengineering technologies by presenting its results not only to an expert audience but also to the wider public.

Responsible: M.Bräunche
Latest Revision: 2013-04-21