(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology held its third hearing on geoengineering to explore the domestic and international governance needs to initiate and guide potential geoengineering research programs. In addition, Committee Members discussed which U.S. federal agencies and institutions have the capacity and authority to conduct geoengineering research.
“Our changing climate has been the topic of sometimes heated discussion at many of our Committee’s hearings. The impacts of climate change may outpace the world’s political, economic, and physical ability to avoid them through greenhouse gas reductions alone. Therefore, we should know what other tools we have at our disposal, and if certain proposals, such as geoengineering, represent an option. But we cannot know until we have done the research on the full range of impacts of geoengineering said Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN). “I’d like to make it clear that we are not advocating for deployment of geoengineering technologies; I hope that we never get to that point.”
Geoengineering is a term that encompasses a wide range of strategies to deliberately alter the Earth’s climate systems for the purpose of counteracting the effects of climate change. Geoengineering is controversial because of uncertainties regarding its effectiveness and cost, and its potential to harm the environment and create adverse socio-political impacts. Proponents claim that, in comparison to traditional mitigation techniques, geoengineering technologies offer faster-acting, politically palatable, and cost-effective solutions.
Carbon Dioxide Removal and Solar Radiation Management are the most commonly proposed geoengineering technologies. Carbon Dioxide Removal proposes to reduce excess carbon dioxide concentrations by capturing and storing or consuming carbon directly from air. Solar Radiation Management proposes to reflect a portion of the sun’s radiation back into space.
Due to the novel and complex nature of geoengineering research and technologies, experts have requested a governance model or set of models that will allow the field to develop in a way that is both environmentally and socially acceptable and relevant to domestic and international policy solutions.
In 2009, the U.S. and U.K.’s Science and Technology Committee Chairmen began a joint inquiry to collaborate and coordinate on geoengineering research. This partnership provides international collaboration on the status of regulation, oversight, environmental monitoring, and finding of geoengineering research. Today, MP Phil Willis, Chairman of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, released a report, The Regulation of Geoengineering, which finds that there are good scientific reasons for allowing investigative research on geoengineering but stresses the urgency for its governance.
Witnesses agreed that geoengineering research should be open and transparent and made a few recommendations on which agencies should play a role in geoengineering research. For instance, witnesses suggested the Department of Energy (DOE) support research to develop and test technology to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Due to the similarities with carbon capture sequestration, DOE’s Fossil Energy program could do Carbon Dioxide Removal. Since the National Science Foundation (NSF) has participated in related grant giving for basic research and policy, the agency was suggested to support the initial SRM research.
“The science behind geoengineering is young. There are many unknowns—beyond if these technologies will work or not. Geoengineering does offer potential benefits. At the same time, geoengineering is vulnerable to mismanagement and may have consequences that are unacceptable to society. For all these reasons, we should be skeptical of deploying these technologies,” added Gordon. “We need to learn about these technologies through research that will inform our decisions in the future and enable us to explore all of our options in light of the threats that climate change poses.”
Committee Members also discussed three possible governance options: no regulation, international treaties and agreements, and international research consortia. Currently, no international treaties or institutions regarding geoengineering exist. Overall, Members agreed that should geoengineering research advance, an international treaty or institution may become necessary; since very little is known about this field, they determined that international research consortia, such as the United Nations (UN), the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), or the World Climate Research Program (WCRP) could be used effectively and safely to advance the scientific research and develop a network of responsible researchers.