Climate engineering

Climate Engineering: Trans-Disciplinary Studies of the Possibilities and Risks

  • Mitigation and Adaptation need to be the primary focus for a sustainable reaction to human-induced climate change, but are proving inadequate and slow; there is a heated though still limited discussion by scientists, engineers, policy makers, and some members of civil society whether the mitigation and adaptation activities could or should be augmented by climate engineering (CE);
  • Even if a rapid, unexpected “solution” to the energy-supply issue were to be found, with a fully renewable, perfectly clean and inexpensive energy source, we still have major, committed warming, ocean acidification, and likely a sudden boost in the effective global warming due to removal of a large fraction of reflecting aerosols; these will enhance the intensity of the call for climate engineering; 
  • Since there is a clear potential of this leading to a major socio-technological transition, there is a strong need for independent scientific watchdogs who will examine how we can effectively research this issue and provide the information needed by society and policy makers in order to evaluate this potential (with the initial emphasis on providing information to help avoid major side effects and geographical inequities of any potential climate engineering implementations, but also for avoiding missed opportunities for “acceptable” intervention);
  • Because of the extremely strong ethical concerns about climate engineering, research needs to be done in close collaboration between all disciplines involved – Earth system science, economics, philosophy, psychology, political science and law – which makes this a fundamentally challenging research issue. 
Driving Questions
  • Which climate parameters are changing due to anthropogenic effects, which of these can be influenced by CE, what are the tradeoffs between targeted influence on individual parameters, is it possible to prioritize, and would such a prioritization influence the results of economics, ethics, law and political science studies?
  • What are the primary “no-go” criteria for various CE proposals (e.g., science-technical, engineering, economic or ethical considerations, like number of planes and flights that would be needed to get a reasonable initial concentration of aerosol particles in stratospheric plumes in order to prevent rapid fallout of the coagulating particles, etc.)?  Which of these can be effectively established to funnel further research into remaining viable proposals?
  • Who has their hand on the thermostat, once we know how to turn it?  (note the parallels here to the pharmaceutical and especially genetic engineering issues)
  • What information is needed by civil society and policy makers to make informed decisions about the development of a regulatory basis for further research and for controlling any possible future implementation of CE?  
  • How does this information vary as a function of climate change scenarios, and on a regional/cultural basis?
  • How can this information be effectively gained, particularly in the context of iterative, interdisciplinary interactions helping to guide a core of earth systems science research?
  • How can this information be conveyed effectively to civil society and policy makers to facilitate an informed, rational, non-politicized debate?
Within the topic of climate engineering, we are emphasizing a highly interdisciplinary approach.  We will have a small core group working on one of the main types of proposed approaches (Targeted Planetary Cooling – TPC), and a couple additional team members working on the other type (Carbon Dioxide Removal – CDR).  Around this will form an interdisciplinary “microcosm”, with representatives from as many of the relevant social science and humanities disciplines as possible.  In addition to these core funding research activities, we will also be hosting two projects which give us a direct involvement in providing advise to policy makers, one at the European level (EuTRACE) and the other at the German level (UBA – SRM/Ozone).  These projects are described in the links below.