The following is a response to David G. Victor’s article, “On the regulation of geoengineering” Oxford Review of Economic Policy, vol. 24, no. 2, pp 322-336.
Victor brings up an excellent point in that it only takes one (very rich) person, or one country, to geoengineer enough to affect the entire world. The drastic nature of geoengineering alone is enough to call for premature regulatory efforts. To investigate the science, he warns that an international panel, like the IPCC and Montreal Protocol are inneffective in this situation. The difference with geoengineering is that the science is not clearly understood (as in the hole in the ozone layer addressed in the Montreal Protocol); as Victor states the literature is so sparse, “it could be read over a long weekend”. In the case of the IPCC, there was a wide body of knowledge in need of synthesis. What he suggessts is multiple assessment institutions to analyze the science, technology and policy of geoengineering. These institutions would be stronger than the loosely knit IPCC, and allow greater authority along with an approach from multiple angles with all groups convening to compare assessments.
The complicated nature of geoengineering policy is that the science is so unpredictable and so high stakes. Climate change is as well, but emission regulations are not keeping up with targets (as seen in Kyoto Protocol progress), and many think a call for more drastic measures is needed.
But will those early efforts create a push for geoengineering before its time? Before it is developed and understood to the degree where it can be a safe decision? Victor seemed to believe that the wealthier, techier countries like the United States should be pushed faster into geoengineering since they will be at the forefront of whatever is carried out.
I have my own thoughts on what should be done, which will be saved for another post, but I’ll leave you with this excerpt as food for thought, a warning from Victor’s article:
“But once the process of geoengineering begins–whether unilateral or collective–it is likely the world will be unable to stop. For whatever the ills of global climate change, it is probably even more dangerous to let the climate experience the even more rapid warming that would follow the dismantling of geoengineering systems.”