Environmental Institutions, International Research Programmes, and Lessons for Geoengineering Research (Working Paper)

Ghosh (2014) – Environmental Institutions International Research Programmes and Lessons for GE Research – Click for Download

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 3.27.11 PMIntroduction

The existing landscape of multilateral environmental agreements varies in terms of their relevance to governing (largely, prohibiting) the deployment of geoengineering technologies. There is, however, a governance gap regarding R&D activities on geoengineering. No existing institution appears to have the mandate or capacity to govern the upstream process of laying down proactive research and governance mechanisms. Meanwhile, research activities are gaining momentum, even though the vast majority of researchers might currently be concentrated in a few developed countries, thus raising questions about the legitimacy of the research and exposing governance deficits. What lessons can be drawn from other international research endeavours to design coordinated scientific research in solar geoengineering?

Attempts to coordinate geoengineering research internationally hinge on technical and scientific demands, on one hand, and ethical and political considerations, on the other. Some researchers argue that prohibitions on geoengineering research violate the basic principle of freedom of science. Others contend that, if the research has cross-border dimensions or risks, then it would have to be governed in some form, although governance need not mean only prohibition or formal international treaties. International cooperation over governing research is not a given and would depend on the mix of material interests and ethical concerns for research partners as well as those countries outside the scope of research programmes.

This paper argues that, given the nature of research, funding requirements, political imperatives, and the need to win informed public acceptance, internationally coordinated geoengineering research programmes would be necessary. The paper also draws on examples from past international research programmes (World Climate Research Programme, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, among others) to argue that several key characteristics define successful research endeavours: inclusiveness, transparency and review, public engagement, and precaution. Finally, the paper discusses operational aspects of international research programmes, namely research capacity, flexible funding, establishing liability, and intellectual property.

This paper considers the question largely in the context of research connected with solar radiation management (SRM). Although the text uses geoengineering and SRM interchangeably, it does not imply that all the findings and recommendations found relevant to SRM research would automatically apply to carbon dioxide removal (CDR) methods.

International Governance Gap for Geoengineering Research

Although geoengineering research is being discussed at the national legislative level (note the Congressional and Parliamentary hearings in the United States and United Kingdom[1], respectively, and government reports on geoengineering in Germany[2]), the potential cross-border environmental externalities associated with solar geoengineering mean that some form of international governance arrangement would be certainly demanded, if not inevitable.

But almost no international agreements or decisions yet exist that are specific to geoengineering, with the exception of the broad decision by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at Nagoya. However, under certain interpretations, the rules and mandates of several international organisations and multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) have potential intersections with geoengineering. A non-exhaustive list might include the CBD; the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); the UN Environment Programme (UNEP); the UN Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD); the Antarctic Treaty System; the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP); the International Maritime Organization (IMO); the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer; and the UN Outer Space Treaties.[3]

An integrated governance framework should, ideally, cover all stages of SRM technology development: research (i.e. computer modelling, laboratory activities), field-testing and deployment. Yet, the current landscape is disposed to what can be called downstream governance (constraining field testing or full deployment) rather than upstream governance (coherence of initial research principles, review of research outputs, and building forums to scope and frame an emerging issue comprehensively). While downstream institutions can govern deployment and its repercussions by either ruling on violations of allowable emissions or social or physical impacts, or by establishing liability after deployment, in part by determining the motivation for such action (e.g. ENMOD). Significantly, many institutions appear more aligned with simply prohibiting – or at least severely limiting the use of – geoengineering. No existing institution has yet developed a comprehensive assessment process for SRM or laid down proactive research and governance mechanisms.

Does SRM necessarily require international governance?

If governance arrangements were to develop, they would need to account for the transboundary nature of research, field tests and deployment – and their impacts. The principles affecting the governance of geoengineering will depend on how it is categorised.[4] Irrespective of the scale of activity, there are international dimensions of geoengineering research.

Computer modeling

Virtually all solar geoengineering research uses computer models. Whether testing ideas of sulphate injections in stratospheric clouds or brightening marine low clouds, their effects are calculated with the same computer models that are also used to study the climate system.

SRM research would have to build on existing international collaborations in climate science. For instance, in preparation for the IPCC AR5 report, the Climate Model Intercomparison Project 5 (CMIP5) was conducted by about twenty general circulation model research groups around the world.[5] The Geoengineering Model Intercomparison Project (GeoMIP) piggybacked on to that experiment. GeoMIP examines how reducing solar radiation would reverse warming from CO2 in many of the CMIP5 computer simulations, ensuring comparability of SRM modeling results for the first time across a number of climate models. This experiment was endorsed by the World Climate Research Program’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling (WGCM) as a ‘Coordinated CMIP Experiment’. Further, some groups involved in the CMIP5 also agreed to conduct the same climate change experiments with new models and make the results available to all. Like CMIP5, results from GeoMIP are intended to be archived in a databank accessible to all. High-resolution regional climate models are also being used for cloud brightening studies.[6]

Field experiments

The environmental risk of field experiments would vary by scale but who is to decide what is a small versus a medium or large scale experiment?  With increase in scale, each experiment would have to be separately reviewed and approved. At least three scenarios should be considered. The first is when the experiment is entirely privately funded. While such activity could fall outside the purview of national governments (depending on the scope of domestic laws), their international consequences would still demand attention. If the scale of the experiment is expected to have transboundary consequences, then appropriate international governance mechanisms would be demanded. What kind of obligations do private research institutions or consortia have towards the rest of the world? If national laws are ambiguous, would laws emanating from regional or multilateral institutions be sufficient to regulate such activity?

A second scenario arises when a small number of countries decide to collaborate on a field experiment. Here, too, the scope of the research collaboration would be determined by the countries concerned. They might or might not choose to allow other countries to join the research group. There are also other concerns about the transparency of the research, whether the data would be available to non-members of the research group. The most important question would be whether international laws and organisations could have any jurisdiction over a subset of countries that have voluntarily chosen to come together in a research project. If the answer is unclear, then the opposition to field experiments would also intensify.

A third scenario is a multi-country project. Here, a large number of countries could decide to engage in experiments of a specified scale, with each country contributing to the costs or scientific resources or both. Alternatively, the experiment could commence with fewer countries but with provisions to include others. The parameters for admission could vary, as could the basis of joining the project (a formal treaty or a loose collaboration).


At the other extreme, one or more countries may decide to deploy geoengineering technologies in future (these technologies do not exist at present). An engineering analysis has suggested that a small fleet of high-altitude aircraft could succeed in conducting experiments on a large scale.[7] So far, however, there are no in situ geoengineering experiments that are being conducted.[8]

Actors, scales, motivations and governance

The above discussion suggests that, in the absence of a governance framework, how the scales of geoengineering activities are interpreted will depend on the actors (private or public) promoting these activities. Some scholars argue that, since actors have varied interests, the definitions of scale – whether measured in time, space, or emission amount beyond which environmental impacts might be possible – need to be resolved in advance.[9]

But who would make those decisions about scale and impacts? Note that governance of geoengineering does not necessarily mean an international treaty. But any governance arrangement would have at least three essential functions: making decisions, monitoring actions, and resolving disputes[10]. These functions could be undertaken by groups of scientists, by apex scientific bodies, by national regulation, by non-binding international principles, or by bilateral, mini-lateral or multilateral treaty arrangements. The design of the governance arrangements would be a function of interest-based concerns that various actors have and the balance of ethical concerns.

Material interests in SRM stem from the current levels of uncertainty with regard to the science. Some countries and scientists might argue that there is a need to retain the freedom to experiment to improve our knowledge to make informed decisions.[11] But rules are also needed to rein in runaway unilateral action in an uncertain technological field.[12] In a sense, countries are concerned about unanticipated outcomes.[13] Moreover, countries may wish to rein in unilateral action fearing others might gain a technological edge without clarity about their intentions. In short, actors might favour rules that give them maximum flexibility while keeping others off balance.

Ethical concerns, in terms of the legitimacy of a governance structure, translate into processes and outcomes. On the process side, actors wish to participate in forums at which rules are drafted, have the power to influence such rules, and be fully informed before giving consent to governance arrangements. Countries, civil society and scientific communities also have concerns about outcomes, such as if research capability influences governance arrangements, how growing capability could shift intents about geoengineering, and how actions would be monitored or disputes resolved.[14]

Table 1: Which functions for what motivations?
Interest-based concerns Ethical concerns 
Maintain flexibility Constrain others Process legitimacy Outcome legitimacy
Making decisions Scope of governance limited Scope of governance broad Inclusive process vs. Ease of decision-making in small groups Equally weighted voting rules vs. Capability-driven voting
Monitoring actions Self-reporting Institutional reporting plus verification Inclusiveness of review procedures Quality and timeliness of reporting
Resolving disputes Decentralised adjudication, including market instruments Centralised adjudication plus centralised/decentralised enforcement Ease of access to dispute settlement forums Ability to enforce decisions against powerful countries
Source: Adapted from Ghosh, 2011a

Table 1 illustrates, schematically, how the interaction of material interests and ethical concerns would influence how decisions are made, actions monitored and disputes resolved.[15] If actors’ interests are to retain maximum flexibility for their research agendas, the scope of governance will be limited and any adjudication will be decentralised. If the intention is to constrain others, more formal rules will be drawn, with third-party reporting and adjudication by higher authorities. Process legitimacy will depend on how inclusive procedures are for decision making, review and dispute settlement, while outcome legitimacy will depend on how voting rights are determined, the quality of reporting and ability to enforce decisions.

Such governance arrangements are not only for inter-country forums. The same factors would also influence governance of geoengineering research or field experiments even among groups of scientists or between different research groups, private sector entities and civil society organisations. It is not necessary that all forms of geoengineering require inter-state governance. But if research were occurring among scientists in different countries, or if field tests were expected to have cross-border impacts, then irrespective of the scale of activity, governance arrangements, broad or narrow, would have an international dimension.

Could governance arrangements become excessively prohibitive at early stages of research, or overly permissive with regard to field tests and deployment? These are certainly possibilities but they are contingent on the balance of power among actors seeking to design SRM governance. The likelihood of such outcomes should not become a reason for avoiding governance altogether. As argued earlier, the demand for governance arises from how SRM research, field tests and deployment are conceptualised and by the actors that drive them as well as the actors that are not included. If the extremes of uninhibited unilateral action and outright prohibition of early stage research have to be avoided, then geoengineering research would have to be coordinated internationally. What principles would such research programmes follow and what lessons can they draw from other international research endeavours?

Lessons from Other International Research Programmes

Some aspects of SRM research cannot be conducted solely within national borders. The nature of the scientific inquiry (such as, measuring ocean acidity, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, and the impact on monsoons and soil moisture) requires international research programmes.[16] There are also financial constraints for individual countries. There are demands for being inclusive in the research process. There are political constraints about who contributes and who controls the research activity. And there are issues about public engagement in the research activity.

Although SRM research is controversial and replete with uncertainties, there are several examples that could offer lessons on how international research collaborations originate, how they are funded and governed, and how they expand their membership. Admittedly, the examples in this section are not a comprehensive list of international scientific research programmes. But their selection is not arbitrary. They draw on other examples of research, which required international modelling efforts (IGY, WCRP, HUGO), or activities with large financial contributions from many countries thanks to the infrastructure required (CERN, ITER), have included developing countries actively (CGIAR, ITER), or been politically astute in bridging divides (ITER) or permitting in kind contributions (ITER), or have had public engagement due to the potential for adverse cross-border or regional consequences (nuclear waste management).

International Geophysical Year

The International Geophysical Year (IGY), lasting from 1 July 1957 to 31 December 1958, was the world’s first sustained multinational research collaboration on the environment. The International Council for Science (ICSU), an independent federation of scientific unions, took the lead in organising and funding the IGY. A Special Committee for the IGY (CSAGI) served as the governing body. Representatives of 46 countries originally agreed to participate in the IGY; by its close, 67 countries had become involved.

World Climate Research Program

The World Climate Research Program (WCRP), established in 1980, was jointly sponsored by ICSU and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). It has also received support from UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) since 1993. Aiming to improve scientific understanding of the Earth’s physical climate system, WCRP studies the global atmosphere, oceans, sea ice, land ice and the land surface. The three sponsoring organisations have appointed, by mutual consensus, a Joint Scientific Committee comprising 18 scientists. The research is itself conducted by scientists in national and regional institutions, laboratories and universities. WCRP regularly informs the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its subsidiary bodies. Peer reviewed publications by scientists affiliated to the WCRP underpins much of the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

European Organization for Nuclear Research

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), established in 1954, is the world’s largest particle physics laboratory, situated on the Franco–Swiss border. Run by twenty European countries,[17] the CERN Council has two representatives from each member state, one representing the government and the other her/his country’s scientific community. Decisions are by simple majority and based on one-country-one-vote, although the Council usually aims for consensus.[18] CERN spends much of its budget on building new machines (such as the Large Hadron Collider) and only partially contributes to the cost of the experiments. Other countries and organisations have observer status (the European Commission, India, Israel, Japan, Russia, Turkey, UNESCO and the United States) and 57 other countries have cooperation agreements or scientific contacts with CERN.[19] Consequently, scientists from more than 600 institutes and universities around the world use CERN’s facilities.

International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is an international research and engineering project, which is currently building the world’s largest and most advanced experimental nuclear fusion reactor. ITER originated from discussions in 1985 when President Gorbachev, following discussions with President Mitterrand, proposed to President Reagan that an international project be set up to develop fusion energy for peaceful purposes. ITER began as a collaboration between the European Union, Japan, the former Soviet Union, and the United States.[20] Its current members are the European Union (contributing 45-50 per cent of the cost) and China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States, each contributing 9-10 per cent.[21] Originally expected to cost around €5 billion, the estimates are now in the region of €10-15 billion, with growing pressure for more transparency about the costs of the project.[22] The process of selecting a site for the ITER project ran from 2001 to 2005 culminating in the choice for Cadarache, France. Since Japan lost out on its proposed site, it was promised 20 per cent of research staff (in return for only 10 per cent of the funding) as well as the right to propose the Director General. Further, another research facility for the ITER project would be built in Japan, for which the European Union has agreed to contribute about 50 per cent of the costs.[23]

Nuclear waste management[24]

Nuclear waste management and disposal have also benefited from international collaboration. As with geoengineering, these topics raise complex questions about technology, earth science, long-term stewardship and public engagement. A number of inter-country collaborations, notably with the Swedish nuclear waste programme, allowed the international community to share the burden of technology development and formulate technical norms for characterising and analysing the behaviour of nuclear waste repository sites. What started as a national programme of waste management in Sweden resulted in, first, a collaboration with Finland, which then became the basis of a European Technology Platform.

Much of this collaborative technical work was used in Sweden and other countries (though not in the United States) as a basis for licensing facilities and for securing public acceptance of individual countries’ nuclear waste management plans. An EU-wide nuclear waste storage facility is now being considered under the Strategic Action Plan for Implementation of European Regional Repositories (Stage 2) (SAPIERR II); this too has strong support from Sweden.[25] Countries that participated in these research programmes provided funding, agreed on research goals, and established a formal process for adaptive management, which allowed the programme to take credit for the results it achieved.

Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) was established in 1971 although its roots lay in agricultural research that began in Mexico in 1943 (funded by the Rockefeller Foundation). By the 1960s, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines had been established. The CGIAR was created to coordinate agricultural research and food security measures that were being employed in several developing countries, thus evolving a network of research institutions, which also included the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia, and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria. Currently, fifteen centres are supported in the CGIAR network.[26] The CGIAR, in turn, received funding support from the Food and Agricultural Organization, the United Nations Development Programme, and the World Bank during its inception.

In December 2009, a new institutional model was adopted to offer programmatic support via a new CGIAR Fund, to bring balance to governance by including donors and researchers, and to create a new legal entity that would bring the research centres together. The Fund’s governing council now includes eight donor representatives, eight representatives from developing countries and regional organisations, and six representatives from multilateral organisations and private foundations. An Independent Science and Partnership Council was also established to provide advice and expertise.

Human Genome Project

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was a thirteen-year long international research programme aimed at discovering the 20000-25000 human genes and to complete the sequence of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that constitute human DNA. The project, which ran during 1990-2003, was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. National Institutes of Health National Human Genome Research Institute. They together spent nearly $3.8 billion on the project.[27] At least eighteen countries also established research programmes, including China, France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom. The Human Genome Organisation (HUGO), conceived in 1988, helped to coordinate some of the international research effort.[28]

Lessons for SRM from Other International Research Programmes

The purpose of the above examples is not to draw a like-for-like comparison with SRM research. Surely, there would be differences, in the complexity of the science, costs of research, testing and deployment, extent of transboundary risks, and so forth. But these examples highlight certain lessons, which might be relevant to organising international research programmes for SRM as well. They are also similar to voluntary principles adopted for geoengineering research, such as the Oxford Principles[29] and the Asilomar Principles.[30]


Inclusion may be promoted through both voluntary and treaty-based participation. Membership during the IGY was partly voluntary and partly based on international treaties (such as the Antarctic Treaty). The 2006 ITER agreement established an international organisation responsible for all aspects of the project: licensing, hardware procurements, construction, the twenty-year operation period, and the decommissioning of ITER at the end of its lifetime.[31] For SRM research, individual scientists could be seconded to collaborate on projects in other countries, thereby helping to build an international network of researchers rather than drive nationally-determined projects.

Transparency and review

Any credible scientific research programme must undergo rigorous peer review. But the research must also be conducted in a transparent manner, especially if it has cross-border risks. One of the HGP’s goals was to store the DNA sequence in publicly available databases, which are housed in GenBank, a public database operated by the U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information. All the major research papers published during the project were given free access by Nature and Science journals. Currently, for solar geoengineering research, transparency is mainly gained from numerous conference sessions and workshops held each year. The IPCC held an expert meeting on geoengineering in June 2011, to discuss both the state of geoengineering science, as well as state of the art research in economic, ethical, political and legal dimensions of geoengineering. Geoengineering is now also addressed in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, which is being published over 2013-2014.[32] However, if most SRM research occurs in a few developed countries, and most related academic conferences are also held there, some might question their legitimacy.

As Table 1 showed, process and outcome legitimacy of monitoring depends on how inclusive the review procedures are and how timely and relevant is the information provided. Options include institutionalised self-reporting (research consortia report periodically on activities), to cover scientific methods and results, financing sources, governance mechanisms and so forth. Transparency is further strengthened by independent review procedures, say by the governing council of a research consortium, or by third parties (as occurs under the WTO’s Trade Policy Review Mechanism or the IMF’s Country Reviews).

Public engagement

Further, it is not sufficient to publish results in refereed journals. For instance, ICSU’s Principle of the Universality of Science, laid out in Statute 5, demands equitable access to data, information and research materials. But unless the data is presented in accessible, usable and comparable formats, it would be difficult for governments and research institutions to engage other sections of society and inform them about the potential impacts (domestic or transboundary) of geoengineering experiments. As a result, numerous public engagements have been held across the world but they would have to intensify to widen the reach of the debates around geoengineering.[33] The absence of such engagement could backfire on research activities if public opposition results in all initiatives being banned, irrespective of the scale and nature of the research.


Even though geoengineering research might be necessary to prepare for a “Plan B” against the risk of severe climate impacts, it is also important that all caution be exercised in the scope and scale of such research. Precaution would imply that high risk technologies are avoided entirely or a moratorium is agreed against their deployment, at least until appropriate governance mechanisms for establishing liability are not established. The calculation of risk itself would be contingent on factoring in the uncertainties and ignorance (technical, political and social) associated with emerging research and technologies.[34]

Operational Aspects for Designing International Research Programmes

The examples of antecedent international research programmes also offer insights for operational aspects of coordinating SRM research across multiple institutions and jurisdictions.

Research capacity

For a broad-based research agenda to develop, capacity is a key consideration. Geoengineering research activities will have to devote greater attention to emerging economies and poorer countries, by starting to identify potential institutions that could be drawn into a network of international research collaborations. Efforts would be needed (combined with financial support) to engage these institutions and build local research capacity, say by developing segments of projects focused on measuring the applicability and impact of the technology in local conditions. Another approach would be to source inputs from developing countries to build components of larger infrastructure, as is planned for ITER. Again, at CERN developing countries have been asked to produce materials that are used to build particle detectors.[35] Research should also draw upon local experience to understand the social and political dimensions of geoengineering. For instance, the HGP’s stated goals include studying ethical, legal and social issues that were expected to arise from the project.[36]

Flexible funding

One major problem with promoting international geoengineering research is raising and monitoring funds. In continental Europe and the United Kingdom, calls for proposals for research on geoengineering have emerged recently. In the United States, by contrast, such funding comes through the normal funding process; there is no national research programme. One option is to consider funding “in kind” whereby member institutions or countries are allowed to offer staff capacity, institutional resources or material inputs as ways to participate in a joint project (as ITER permits). The transparency of funding channels and the openness of the intellectual property regimes vis-á-vis geoengineering research would be important to ensure that such efforts are not rewarded by exclusive patents.

Responsibility and liability

With many parties involved in research, responsibility for anticipated and unanticipated adverse outcomes has to be ascribed and limits on liability established. Where international scientific research has created independent institutions, liability clauses are more explicit than where loose groupings of scientists engage in collaborative research. CERN assumes the expense of insuring against risks of ‘fire, explosion, natural disaster and water damage’ for all items belonging to both the collaboration and collaborating institution, once they have been delivered to the CERN site. CERN also insures members of collaborating institutions from third party liabilities incurred at CERN during an experiment. However, such liability is limited and there is no warranty that it would be sufficient to cover for the full extent of the risks involved.[37] Similarly, Article 15 of the Agreement of the ITER Organization provides for contractual as well as non-contractual liability assumed by the organisation. The European initiative for Implementing Geological Disposal of Radioactive Waste Technology Platform (IGD-TP) offers the option of deciding on governance questions through a legal agreement or by setting terms of reference for joint activities. For a legal agreement, every organisational partner has to agree even if the joint activity is among a subset of all members.[38]

Intellectual property and access to data

Intellectual property rights in international research programmes are controversial because each country has different rules and there are ethical questions about whether research conducted in the public interest should be commercialised on a private basis.

The extent of public and private commercial interest varies. The IGY’s organising committee was categorical that ‘all observational data shall be available to scientists and scientific institutions in all countries’.[39] Under the HGP, results were available on open source platforms. Research involved public collaborations as well as a private firm, Celera Genomics. When the latter filed preliminary patent applications on 6500 whole or partial genes, thus threatening the free flow of data, the University of California-Santa Cruz published the first draft of the human genome. The “Bermuda Principles”, by which data are expected to be released within 24 hours, have been used to counteract the normal practice of making experimental data available only after publication – and the entire gene sequence was freely available.

CERN normally retains ownership of technologies that it develops or concludes joint ownership and exploitation (commercial and free use) agreements with other partie.[40] CERN also follows the “open science” model, whereby methods and results are disclosed. Revenues from commercialisation are divided among those who developed the technology, the related CERN department, as well as a special fund to support technology transfer. If there is a conflict between revenue generation and dissemination, dissemination takes precedence.[41] In August 2010 CERN signed a deal with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to facilitate technology transfer.[42]

ITER allows a member state to acquire rights to IP that it has generated but retains rights over property created by the ITER Organization or its staff.[43] IP created jointly by members and the ITER Organization are co-owned. There are clear rights of royalty-free access for other members (Articles 4.1.2 and Article 5.1.2), rights of sub-licencing for use by third parties (Articles 4.1.3 and 5.1.3), and even for licensing to third parties of non-members (Articles 4.3 and 5.3).

These examples suggest that the results of scientific research conducted in public interest are expected to be widely shared. Since climate change threatens humanity and the impacts of geoengineering are expected to be of transboundary scale, the case for publicly available data is strengthened. Since solar geoengineering entails risks, it is imperative that any research is treated as affecting the general public interest.[44] Government-funded research should, therefore, remain in the public domain, while privately funded work should have limits on proprietary knowledge.


This paper has focused on the governance of geoengineering research. It showed that although several multilateral environmental treaties might have some relevance to geoengineering, there is a governance gap when it comes to research. Depending on the scale and scope of research, field testing and deployment, there are several aspects that could benefit from internationally coordinated efforts. Numerous past and ongoing international research programmes suggest that there are some basic principles that are key to successful endeavours: inclusiveness, transparency and review, public engagement, and applying the precautionary principle. The pursuit of the principles of open scientific collaboration does not mean that only one kind of institutional design is possible. Operationalising an international research programme means that the interested parties would have to account for variance in research capacity, develop flexible funding mechanisms, outline clear liability rules, and decide on ownership of and ease of access to intellectual property. The challenge with geoengineering research on an international scale is not merely the coordination of the efforts, but developing cooperative mechanisms that reduce uncertainties, increase trust and are legitimate in the eyes of people and countries that are left outside of the process.


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Heckendorn, P., D. Weisenstein, S. Fueglistaler, B.P. Luo, E. Rozanov, M. Schraner, L.W. Thomason, and T. Peter. 2009. “The Impact of Geoengineering Aerosols on Stratospheric Temperature and Ozone.” Environmental Research Letters, 4: 1-12.

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[1] See House of Commons, 2010; Gordon, 2010; USGAO, 2010.

[2] Rickels et al, 2011

[3] See Blackstock and Ghosh, 2011.

[4] Morgan and Ricke, 2010; Morgan et al, 2013

[5] Taylor, Stouffer and Meehl, 2008

[6] For example, Wang, Rasch, and Feingold, 2011.

[7] McClellan et al, 2010

[8] A Russian experiment, which used tropospheric aerosols, had been mistakenly labeled geoengineering. See Izrael et al, 2009.

[9] Robock et al, 2010

[10] Abbott and Snidal, 2009; Ghosh, 2011b; Ghosh, 2010; Ghosh and Woods, 2009; Chayes and Chayes, 1995.

[11] Crutzen, 2006; MacCracken, 2009; Blackstock et al., 2009; Morgan and Ricke, 2010; Benedick, 2011.

[12] Victor 2008; ETC Group, 2010b; Keohane and Victor 2011; Lloyd and Oppenheimer, 2014.

[13] Uncertainties about rainfall and the hydrological cycle (Bala et al., 2008; Brovkin et al., 2009), tropical forests (Eliseev et al., 2010), ozone layer (Royal Society, 2009; Heckendorn et al., 2009), oceans (Scott, 2005; Lampitt et al., 2008; Trick et al., 2010), and the so-called ‘termination effect’ (also see Robock, 2008; Robock et al., 2008; Robock et al., 2009; Leinen, 2011).

[14] Ethical concerns stem from worries about moral hazard (Caldeira and Wood, 2008; Keith et al., 2010), ascertaining intent (Fleming, 2007; Barrett, 2008), cross-border impacts (ETC, 2010a; Banerjee, 2011; NGOs letter, 2011), and intergenerational equity (Burns, 2011; Brown Weiss, 1992; UNFCCC Art. 3(1)).

[15] See detailed scenarios in Ghosh, 2011a.

[16] Crutzen, 2006; Caldeira and Wood, 2008; Blackstock et al., 2009; MacCracken, 2009.

[17] Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

[18] The Structure of CERN. Accessed Feb 2014 at: http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/About/Structure-en.html

[20] The ITER Story. Accessed Feb 2014 at: https://www.iter.org/proj/iterhistory

[22] Amos, 2010; Nature, 2009

[23] The ITER Story. Accessed Feb 2014 at: https://www.iter.org/proj/iterhistory

[24] This discussion partly draws on an email communication with Jane Long.

[25] European Commission, 2008

[26]  Who’s Who. Accessed Feb 2014 at: http://www.cgiar.org/who/index.html

[27] Human Genome Project Budget. Accessed Feb 2014 at:http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/project/budget.shtml

[28] About us. Accessed Feb 2014 at: http://www.hugo-international.org/aboutus.php

[29] Rayner et al., 2009; Rayner et al, 2012

[30] Asilomar Scientific Organizing Committee, 2010

[31] The ITER Story. Accessed Feb 2014 at: https://www.iter.org/proj/iterhistory

[32] IPCC, 2013

[33] SRM-GI, 2011. Workshops have been conducted in Singapore (July 2011), New Delhi and Tianjin (September 2011), Ottawa (January 2012), Africa (2012 and 2013), among other places. Climate Frontlines (a ‘forum for indigenous people, small islands and vulnerable communities’), in collaboration with the Convention on Biological Diversity, has opened an online discussion on geoengineering: http://www.climatefrontlines.org/en-GB/node/

[34] Long and Winickoff, 2010

[35] Harvard Model UN, 2011

[36] Details about such ethical, legal and social research are available at: http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/research/elsi.shtml (accessed Feb 2014)

[37] Sections 5.4, 5.5 and 5.6 of the General Conditions Applicable Experiments at CERN; http://committees.web.cern.ch/committees/GeneralConditions.pdf (accessed Feb 2014)

[38] See management guidelines in IGD-TP, 2012.

[39] Rockets, Radars and Computers: The International Geophysical Year. Accessed Feb 2014 at: http://celebrating200years.noaa.gov/magazine/igy/welcome.html#long

[40] CERN’s policy for IP management in technology transfer is available at: http://technologytransfer.web.cern.ch/technologytransfer/ipcharter/IP_management_policy.pdf

[41] WIPO, 2010.

[43] Articles 4.1.1, 5.1.1 and 6.1 of the Annex on Information and Intellectual Property of the Agreement on the Establishment of the ITER International Fusion Energy Organization for the Joint Implementation of the ITER Project. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/world/agreements/downloadFile.do?fullText=yes&treatyTransId=5101

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