Council on Energy, Environment and Water Integrated | International | Independent
Book Chapter

Environmental Institutions, International Research Programmes, and Lessons for Geoengineering Research

Geoengineering Our Climate? Ethics, Politics, and Governance

Arunabha Ghosh
September 2018 | Technology Futures

Suggested Citation: Ghosh, Arunabha. 2018. "Environmental Institutions, International Research Programmes, and Lessons for Geoengineering Research." In Geoengineering our Climate? Ethics, Politics, and Governance, edited by Jason J. Blackstock and Sean Low. Earthscan-Routledge.


This chapter focuses on geoengineering research and argues that internationally coordinated geoengineering research programmes would be necessary for the existing landscape of multilateral environmental agreements. It discusses examples from the previous international research programmes such as World Climate Research Programmes, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. Further, it talks about the operational aspects of international research programmes such as research capacity, flexibility funding, establishing liability, and intellectual property. In addition, this chapter considers the questions largely in the context of the research connected with solar radiation management (SRM).

Key Lessons

  • The ongoing international research programmes suggest that there are some basic principles that are key to successful endeavours: inclusiveness, transparency and review, public engagement and applying the precautionary principle.
  • The challenge with geoengineering research on an international scale is not merely the coordination for the efforts, but developing mechanisms that reduce uncertainties, increase trust, and are legitimate in the eyes of the people and countries that are left outside the process.
  • No existing institution has yet developed a comprehensive assessment process for SRM or laid down proactive research and governance mechanisms.

Lessons from other international research programmes:

  • World Climate Research Programmes: It aims to improve the scientific understanding of the earth’s physical climate system. It studies the global atmosphere, ocean, sea ice, land ice and land surface. WCRP regularly informs the UN framework Convention on Climate Change and its subsidiary bodies.
  • European Organisation for Nuclear Research: It is the world’s largest practical physics laboratory, situated in the Franco-Swiss border. The decisions are by a simple majority and based on one-country-one-vote, although the council usually aims for consensus.
  • Nuclear waste management: A number of inter-country collaborations allowed the international community to share the burden of technology development and formulate technical norms for characterising and analysing the behaviour of the nuclear waste repository site.
  • Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research: It was created to coordinate agricultural research and food security measures that were being employed in several developing countries. It led to the evolution of a network of research institutions, including the International Centre for Tropical Agricultural (CAIT) in Columbia and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria.

Lessons for SRM from other international research programmes:

  • Inclusiveness: For SRM research, individual scientists could be seconded to collaborate on projects in other countries. This will help to build an international network of researchers rather than drive nationally determined projects.
  • Transparency and review: For solar geoengineering research, transparency is mainly gained from numerous conference sessions and workshops held every year. Transparency is further strengthened by independent review procedures, such as the governing council of a research consortium or third parties.
  • Public engagement: Numerous public engagements have been held across the world, but they would have to intensify to widen the reach of the debates around geoengineering.
  • Precautions: Precautions would imply that high-risk technologies are avoided entirely, or a moratorium is agreed against their deployment, at least until appropriate governance mechanisms for establishing liability are established.

Attempts to coordinate geoengineering research internationally hinge on technical and scientific demands on one hand, and ethical and political considerations on the other.

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