Deliberative approach to governance of geoengineering research needed

September 24, 2014

In recent years, scientists, engineers, and policymakers have started asking governments to fund research into geoengineering technologies, which advocates say could result in a viable defense against climate change. However, due to its potential global impacts, careful attention and strategic planning into the governance of geoengineering is first necessary, argues Shobita Parthasarathy in a recent article written for the University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center.

Geoengineering involves large-scale manipulation of the environment through technology to mitigate climate change by either reducing solar radiation, or removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. These technologies are still largely in their conceptual stages.

“We must ... think carefully and strategically about how to develop and deploy these efforts, with specific attention to the various modes of governance that are deemed politically legitimate across the world,” says Parthasarathy, an associate professor of public policy at the Ford School. “Without such careful attention, it is difficult to imagine how geoengineering research and development will proceed as a potential response to climate change.”

In the article, “Designing Global Deliberation for Geoengineering Governance,” Parthasarathy says that because we don’t know much about the potential of these developing technologies and the long-term global impacts they could have, a deliberative approach to their governance that includes input from the world’s citizens is imperative.

Parthasarathy outlines three keys for developing and incorporating deliberative mechanisms, which include:

  • Identifying who to include in the deliberations (i.e., taxpayers who would likely fund early stages of geoengineering research, and those countries likely to be most directly affected by both climate change and geoengineering technologies)
  • Ensuring that the mechanisms adequately translate to the countries where the deliberative exercises are planned
  • Developing an effective approach to reconciling recommendations coming from the multiple deliberative sites; Parthasarathy mentions the establishment of an international advisory committee as an example

Shobita Parthasarathy is an associate professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Her research focuses on the governance of emerging science and technology, particularly those that have uncertain environmental, social, ethical, political, and health implications. Parthasarathy also leads the Risk Science Center’s Governance Focus Initiative and was recently elected to the Governing Council of the Society for the Social Studies of Science.