the climate: science, governance and uncertainty
01 September 2009The Royal Society has published the findings of a major study into geoengineering
The study, chaired by Professor John Shepherd FRS, was researched and written over a period of twelve months by twelve leading academics representing science,
economics, law and social science.
Man-made climate change is happening and its impacts and costs will be large,
serious and unevenly spread. The impacts may be reduced by adaptation and moderated by mitigation, especially by reducing
emissions of greenhouse gases. However, global efforts to reduce emissions have not yet been sufficiently successful to provide
confidence that the reductions needed to avoid dangerous climate change will be achieved. This has led to growing interest
in geoengineering, defined here as the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic
However, despite this interest, there has been a lack of accessible, high quality
information on the proposed geoengineering techniques which remain unproven and potentially dangerous. This study provides
a detailed assessment of the various methods and considers the potential efficiency and unintended consequences they may pose.
It divides geoengineering methods into two basic categories:
1. Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) techniques, which remove CO2 from the atmosphere. As they address
the root cause of climate change, rising CO2 concentrations, they have relatively low uncertainties and risks. However, these
techniques work slowly to reduce global temperatures.
2. Solar Radiation Management (SRM) techniques, which reflect a small percentage of the sun's light
and heat back into space. These methods act quickly, and so may represent the only way to lower global temperatures quickly
in the event of a climate crisis. However, they only reduce some, but not all, effects of climate change, while possibly creating
other problems . They also do not affect CO2 levels and therefore fail to address the wider effects of rising CO2, including
The report recommends:
§ Parties to the UNFCCC should make increased efforts towards mitigating and adapting
to climate change and in particular to agreeing to global emissions reductions of at least 50% on 1990 levels by 2050 and
§ CDR and SRM geoengineering methods should only be considered as part of a wider
package of options for addressing climate change. CDR methods should be regarded as preferable to SRM methods.
§ Relevant UK government departments, in association with the UK Research Councils,
should together fund a 10 year geoengineering research programme at a level of the order of £10M per annum.
The Royal Society, in collaboration with international
science partners, should develop a code of practice for geoengineering research and provide recommendations to the international
scientific community for a voluntary research governance framework.
The Royal Society issued a call for submissions and convened a small ethics
workshop as part of the evidence gathering process. More information is available in the main report.
Read the related press release
UPDATED March 2010 - The
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is carrying out a public dialogue on geoengineering to assess public opinion on
how future research relating to the subject should be directed, conducted and communicated. If you would like to take part
in the dialogue the following link will take you to an online survey about geoengineering. http://geoengineering.dialoguebydesign.net
Related Royal Society publications:
a low carbon future: 29 Jun 2009
§ Inter-Academy Panel statement
on Ocean Acidification: 1 Jun 2009
§ Ground-level ozone in the 21st
century: future trends, impacts and policy implications: 6 Oct 2008
§ Sustainable biofuels: prospects
and challenges:14 Jan 2008
Media coverage of the report includes:
The Independent (article)
The Independent (editorial)
The Sunday Times
The Financial Times (Clive Cookson)
§ The Financial Times (Fiona Harvey)