Washington, D.C. – The National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP) today announced formation of a “Task Force on Geoengineering”, a group of top experts in science, technology, diplomacy, national security, ethics and law who will analyze the main challenges and opportunities for the U.S. government related to geoengineering research and governance. The group, which held its first meeting last week, will conduct research and meetings in the coming months and issue specific recommendations to Congress and the President in July or August of this year.
“We cannot rule out the possibility that climate change will come upon us faster and harder than we can manage,” said Jane Long, Task Force co-chair and Associate Director-at-Large at the Energy and Environment Directorate of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “Prudence dictates we try to create more options to help manage the problem and learn whether these are good options or bad options. This is why scientists today have become interested in a group of technologies commonly called geoengineering that are aimed at ameliorating the harmful effects of climate change directly and intentionally.”
“Some geoengineering techniques – such as blocking sunlight – can, in theory, be implemented cheaply and quickly, but naturally it is important to be alert to the potential unintended consequences,” said Stephen Rademaker, Task Force co-chair, a former Assistant Secretary of State and current Senior Counsel at BGR Government Affairs. “Among the issues we will consider is the degree to which a strong U.S. role in developing a framework for undertaking research in these areas could fill an international policy void and reduce the risks associated with independent actors doing this on their own.”
While geoengineering has been defined by the National Academy of Sciences as “large-scale engineering of our environment in order to combat or counteract the effects of changes in atmospheric chemistry,” the boundaries around the concept remain unclear. Most definitions include:
- solar radiation management (SRM) techniques (reduce the Earth’s absorption of solar radiation), and
- carbon dioxide removal (CDR) techniques (reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations)
However, disagreements over what should be included in geoengineering research persist. One of the goals of the task force is to develop a clear definition that policymakers can use when discussing geoengineering.
“The exploration of geoengineering must be bipartisan, international, and transparent in order to properly address these complex challenges. The bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy will provide an essential forum for intelligent discourse on viable policy options informed by science,” said Congressman Bart Gordon, Chairman of the US House of Representatives Committee on Science & Technology. Chairman Gordon noted that Dr. Jane Long will be testifying at a hearing of the Science Committee on the topic this Thursday.
Geoengineering encompasses scientific, technological, environmental, diplomatic, and military aspects, and is simultaneously a domestic and an international challenge. Yet little is known about many geoengineering techniques and their likely effects. In addition to uncertainty about its environmental effects, geoengineering techniques raise a bevy of legal, economic, and ethical issues: not least of which is the “moral dilemma” that devoting resources to geoengineering may reduce those available for mitigation and adaptation.
“Geoengineering is clearly an issue that makes responsible people uncomfortable, given the potential for unintended consequences, said Sasha Mackler, Research Director of NCEP and staff director of this project. “Rational climate policy must make the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions the number one priority. However, understanding all available policy tools is critically important, especially in the arena of climate change where the stakes are so high and time is so clearly running short.”
Yet, despite the uncertainties and the dangers, ignoring geoengineering is not an option for the U.S. government; the incentives for pursuing it are too strong and too broadly distributed. Many different parts of the U.S. government have responsibilities relevant to geoengineering. Beginning a serious consideration of geoengineering now will allow more careful and reasoned exploration of the issues around it.
The NCEP task force will be chaired by Stephen Rademaker (former Assistant Secretary of State) and Jane Long (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory). Committed members of the NCEP task force include:
- James G. Anderson, Harvard University Philip S. Weld Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry
- Richard Benedick, Senior Adviser, Joint Global Change Research Institute (former Ambassador and chief U.S. negotiator for Montreal Protocol)
- Ken Caldeira, Senior Scientist, Carnegie Institution of Washington
- Joe Chaisson, Research and Technical Director. Clean Air Task Force
- Stephen Gardiner, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Washington
- David Goldston, Director of Government Affairs, Natural Resources Defense Council (former Staff Director for the House Science Committee)
- Steven Hamburg, Chief Scientist, Environmental Defense
- David Keith, Director, ISEEE Energy and Environmental Systems Group, Earth Sciences University of Calgary
- Ron Lehman, Director, Center for Global Security Research, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (Director of the Center for Global Security Research)
- Jane Long, Associate Director-at-Large
- Energy and Environment Directorate, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
- Frank Loy former Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs, US State Department
- Granger Morgan, Lord Chair Professor in Engineering, Department of Engineering and Public Policy Carnegie Mellon University
- Stephen Rademaker, Senior Counsel BGR Government Affairs (former Assistant Secretary of State)
- Daniel Sarewitz, Director
- Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, Arizona State University
- Thomas Schelling, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland
- John Shepherd, Professorial Research Fellow in Earth System Science, University of Southampton (chairman of Royal Society geoengineering report)
- David Victor, Professor, School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, UC-San Diego
- David Whelan, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems Chief Scientist and Vice President, Boeing Corporation (former Director of the Tactical Technology Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)
- David Winickoff, Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, UC-Berkeley