Experts Caution Greenhouse Gas Mitigation and Adaptation Measures Must Take Priority; Recommend Full Evaluation of Long-Term Feasibility and Consequences; Too Little Known to Discuss Deployment at this Time
Oct. 4, 2011
Washington, DC – Leading experts on climate change science and technology comprising the Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) Task Force on Climate Remediation Research today released a report calling for a coordinated federal research program to explore the potential effectiveness, feasibility, and consequences of climate remediation technologies.
[Read the full report here]
The group of 18 leaders from the natural science, social science, science policy, foreign policy, national security, and environmental communities was convened by the BPC in early 2010. This is the first expert report to address what the federal government should do about research in this area.
The BPC Task Force report argues that managing risk is a central principle of effective climate policy, and emphasizes that climate remediation is no substitute for controlling risk through climate mitigation (i.e., reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases) and climate adaptation (i.e., enhancing the resilience of man-made and natural systems to climate changes).
Furthermore, the report emphasizes that it is far too premature to contemplate deployment of any climate remediation technology. However, the Task Force report finds that it is time for the U.S. to undertake a climate remediation research program to understand the risks, costs, and feasibility of these approaches.
“Most climate remediation concepts proposed to date involve some combination of risks, financial costs, and/or physical limitations that make them inappropriate to pursue except as complementary or emergency measures—for example, if the climate system reaches a “tipping point” and swift remedial action is required,” the report notes. “The United States needs to be able to judge whether particular climate remediation techniques could offer a meaningful response to the risks of climate change. But even if it decides not to deploy any climate remediation technology, the U.S. needs to evaluate steps others might take and be able to effectively participate in—and lead—the important international conversations that are likely to emerge around these issues and activities in the years ahead.
“With that in mind, the Task Force believes the federal government should embark on a focused and systematic program of research into climate remediation. The federal government is the only entity that has the incentive, responsibility, and capacity to run a broad, systematic, and effective program; it can also play an important role in effectively establishing international research norms.“
“This Task Force has not recommended deployment of climate remediation technologies, because far more research is needed to understand the potential impacts, risks, and costs associated with specific technologies. The purpose of this report, rather, is to describe how the Task Force believes the U.S. government should go about improving understanding of climate remediation options and how it should work with other countries to foster procedures for research based on that understanding.”
Two distinct rationales for a climate remediation research program form the basis of the report:
- The physical risks of climate change are real and growing.
- The geopolitical and national security risks of deployment of climate remediation technologies by some other countries or actors are real.
As a result, the Task Force believes that the United States must have the knowledge required to:
- Judge whether particular climate remediation techniques could offer a meaningful response to the risks of climate change; and
- Evaluate steps other nations may be in a position to take, and lead the important international conversations that are likely to emerge around these issues in the years ahead.
The report notes that climate remediation proposals generally fall into two broad categories:
- Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR): CDR strategies aim to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, thereby addressing the root causes of climate change.
- Solar Radiation Management (SRM): SRM strategies aim to counteract or mask the effect of rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere by increasing the amount of solar energy that is reflected back into space.
“…research into climate remediation is needed on multiple fronts, but is particularly focused on solar radiation management (SRM) options because of the potential, the risks, and the management difficulties this set of options presents,” the report states. “The Task Force notes that the risk profiles of carbon dioxide removal (CDR technologies) vary by technique, and that studies of some CDR approaches have been supported by the government for many years.”
- The Task Force recommends that the federal government embark on a focused and systematic program of research on climate remediation. The report argues that the federal government is the only entity that has the incentive, responsibility and capacity to run a broad, systematic and effective program, and that it can play an important role in effectively establishing international research norms.
The report emphasizes the need for coordination, especially the need for the government to develop an overarching agenda and funding strategy as part of a coordinated research effort, rather than simply yoking together disparate programs and projects that emerge on an ad hoc basis.
- Specifically, the Task Force recommends that a climate remediation research program be coordinated by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The group finds that basing coordination in the White House can ensure that the larger goals of the program are maintained over the more narrow interests of particular agencies, and that the political support of the President is clearly established over the course of the initiative. Additionally, the report argues that coordination in the White House will help ensure that research is linked to other relevant government activities, such as international relations and environmental regulation. The Task Force states that any controversies over experimentation by the United States or by other countries could certainly require White House engagement, which would benefit from having been involved from the outset.
- The Task Force suggests that some research into climate remediation, not to mention climate remediation efforts themselves, could pose risks and raise new ethical, legal and social issues of broad public concern. For these reasons, the Task Force notes that some kinds of research will require more robust forms of oversight than usual, involving more diverse kinds of experts and more public involvement. Given these unique characteristics, the group recommends that OSTP should be guided by a diverse advisory commission. The Commission should report to the Director of OSTP, and be responsible for: (1) advising the government on how to set up an effective and adequately funded scientific program commensurate with the scale of the problem, and identify dimensions of the problem that are being overlooked; (2) identifying and recommending policies and practices that ensure effective scientific research is conducted in a manner consistent with the principles articulated in this report; (3) recommending criteria for federal agencies to use in deciding whether to approve field research based on the level of risk posed by the proposed activity. Such criteria could also become the basis for international norms; and (4) conducting public communication and engagement activities.
- The Task Force finds that aspects of climate remediation research will require international cooperation and consideration. Unilateral actions by one or more individual countries could have far-reaching consequences. A number of nations are moving forward with research programs. Early efforts by the U.S. to engage other major nations and launch an international dialogue on relevant policy issues are essential
- The Task Force recommends that the U.S. promptly commence working with nations that have the requisite scientific, technological, and financial qualifications to establish common norms and expectations for climate remediation research. Such a process would facilitate future formal or informal agreements among participating nations on norms for considering the deployment of climate remediation technologies. The Task Force recommends, however, that, for the foreseeable future, as a practical matter, a less formal process would be considerably more productive than a formal multilateral discussion or negotiation of climate remediation.
Initially constituted as a task force on “geoengineering,” the group determined that the term “geoengineering” was problematic, partly because is used in other disciplines to describe engineering applied to a geological problem or setting. The task force prefers the term “climate remediation,” which more accurately describes techniques intended to counteract the climate effects of past greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, and does not assume anything about the efficacy, feasibility, or desirability of those techniques. The group is therefore called the “Bipartisan Policy Center’s Task Force on Climate Remediation Research.”
Dr. Jane C. S. Long, Task Force Co-Chair and Associate Director-at-Large at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said “Society has thus far failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to stave off severe climate change—global emissions are actually accelerating, and climatic impacts are increasingly apparent. Reducing emissions must remain the fundamental aim of any approach to climate change. Some climate remediation ideas might offer temporary relief from devastating climate impacts, and others may help to remove the cause of climate change. The U.S. government needs to conduct important, focused research to determine if these proposals could be appropriate tools in a robust, equitable climate risk strategy.”
Stephen Rademaker, Task Force Co-Chair and Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, said “Some proposed climate remediation techniques, particularly solar radiation management, could be fast-acting, be deployed at very low cost, and have quite serious and uneven impacts—intended and unintended. The U.S. has the capacity to establish norms and facilitate international cooperation in this realm, as it has in other areas of scientific research of international concern. At this point, a number of nations have begun to conduct research in this space. A federal research program will help the U.S. government participate meaningfully in international dialogue about this important subject.”
“Our intent was to bring together leading experts from diverse disciplines to evaluate technical, diplomatic and practical aspects of climate remediation research,” said Jason S. Grumet, President of the Bipartisan Policy Center. “The report reflects a consensus view from experts in natural science, social science, science policy, foreign policy, national security, and the environment. We are deeply grateful for their efforts.”
Read the full report here.
Members of the BPC’s Task Force on Climate Remediation:*
Jane C. S. Long, Co-Chair
Associate Director-at-Large, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Stephen Rademaker, Co-Chair
Principal, Podesta Group
Former Assistant Secretary of State
James G. Anderson
Philip S. Weld Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry, Harvard University
Richard Elliot Benedick
President, National Council for Science and the Environment
Former Ambassador and chief U.S. negotiator for the 1987 Montreal Protocol
Senior Scientist, Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution, Stanford University
Research and Technical Director, Clean Air Task Force
Director of Government Affairs, Natural Resources Defense Council
Former Chief of Staff, House Committee on Science
Chief Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund
Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS); and Professor of Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Director, Center for Global Security Research, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Former Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs and Chief U.S. Climate Negotiator, 1998-2000
Lord Chair Professor in Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University
Director, Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, Arizona State University
Distinguished University Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland
Professorial Research Fellow in Earth System Science, School of Ocean & Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton
David G. Victor
Professor, School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, University of California, San Diego; Director, Laboratory on International Law and Regulation
David Whelan, Ph.D., NAE
Boeing Defense, Space, and Security Chief Scientist and Vice President, Strategic Innovation, Phantom Works Former Director of the Tactical Technology Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
David E. Winickoff
Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley
*Affiliations are provided for identification purposes only.
Energy Project, Innovation in Energy