Exploring the 'Deeper Meaning' of Climate Engineering: Conference Highlights Multitude of Concerns

Climate Engineering – the attempt to ward off human-induced global warming with technical interventions – is associated with numerous risks. Not only the climatic consequences, but also the political, economic and social consequences are in need of much more research. At the ‘Climate Engineering Conference 2014: Critical Global Discussions’ (CEC14), which was hosted by the IASS and took place in Berlin from 18 to 21 August, a wide range of academics, policy-makers and representatives of civil society critically discussed issues such as the development of international research guidelines and what an international framework with sufficient legitimacy might look like.  

Some of the scientists gathered in Berlin expressed concerns that the hope for a simple technical solution for the problems caused by climate change might stifle international endeavours to curb climate change. In fact, none of the climate engineering approaches could be implemented quickly and without problems. Their effects on the earth’s climate parameters such as temperature, precipitation and extreme weather events were not the only open question, said IASS Scientific Director Mark Lawrence: “In the same way as we have to consider the deeper meaning of the possibilities presented by genetic modification and cloning, we also need to consider the deeper meaning of what it would imply if humanity ever were to decide to try to take coordinated control over the Earth System on a global scale.” Another major concern involves developing appropriate and effective global governance for each climate engineering technique, from research through testing through potential implementation.

Such comprehensive questions can only be addressed from a multiplicity of viewpoints and a wide range of disciplines. But research should not be conducted in a vacuum, conference participants emphasized: a broad public debate is imperative. In addition to input from the public debate, other factors will also have an impact on climate engineering research, such as the extent of climate change as well as political developments over the next few years. Despite concerns about the risks, only a few conference participants expressed doubts that the various proposed approaches will continue to be explored.

More than 350 participants from 40 countries gathered in Berlin for the CEC14. They represented a wide range of academic disciplines, spanning the natural and social sciences and the humanities, along with policy-makers and representatives of civil society. A central debate evolved around guidelines for research, including intensive discussion of two exemplary documents that were drafted by various participants. Although it was not an aim of the conference to develop a consensus document, the discussions around these documents contributed to a better understanding not only of the issue of research guidelines, but also of how to effectively go about conducting research and dialogue on this controversial topic. This demonstrated the success of the CEC14 as a platform for critical, yet constructive discussions between academia, politics and society.

Opening Statements of the Climate Engineering Conference 2014:

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Conference Program:

Photo: (c) Piero Chiussi