The Regulation of Geoengineering - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

House of Commons video conferencing facilities

1.  We welcome the review that the House is carrying out of the audio-visual facilities in committee rooms to enable the taking of oral evidence in committee by video link. (Paragraph 14)

Definition of geoengineering

2.  We conclude that weather techniques such as cloud seeding should not be included within the definition of geoengineering used for the purposes of activities designed to effect a change in the global climate with the aim of minimising or reversing anthropogenic climate change. (Paragraph 28)

3.  In our view, geoengineering as currently defined covers such a range of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) and Solar Radiation Management (SRM) technologies and techniques that any regulatory framework for geoengineering cannot be uniform. (Paragraph 30)

4.  We conclude that geoengineering techniques should be graded according to factors such as trans-boundary effect, the dispersal of potentially hazardous materials in the environment and the direct effect on ecosystems. The regulatory regimes for geoengineering should then be tailored accordingly. Those techniques scoring low against the criteria should be subject to no additional regulation to that already in place, while those scoring high would be subject to additional controls. (Paragraph 33)

Regulatory framework

5.  Through its involvement in the existing international regulatory arrangements such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and when these instruments come up for revision we recommend that the Government raise geoengineering, particularly those for Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), and seek to develop, in conjunction with other governments, the arrangements provided by these international instruments so that they address research on, and deployment of, CDR geoengineering techniques. (Paragraph 38)

6.  We conclude that there is a gap in the regulatory framework for geoengineering techniques, especially for SRM techniques. (Paragraph 40)

7.  We recommend that the Government review its policy on geoengineering to give it greater priority. (Paragraph 49)

8.  The science of geoengineering is not sufficiently advanced to make the technology predictable, but this of itself is not grounds for refusing to develop regulatory frameworks, or for banning it. There are good scientific reasons for allowing investigative research and better reasons for seeking to devise and implement some regulatory frameworks, particularly for those techniques that a single country or small group of countries could test or deploy and impact the whole climate. (Paragraph 54)

9.  We conclude that there is a need to develop a regulatory framework for geoengineering. Two areas in particular need to be addressed: (i) the existing international regulatory regimes need to develop a focus on geoengineering and (ii) regulatory systems need to be designed and implemented for those SRM techniques that currently fall outside any international regulatory framework. (Paragraph 55)

Public engagement

10.  We recommend that the Government give greater priority to public engagement on geoengineering by, for example, showing how it relates to its policy on the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. We welcome the work of Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) on public engagement on geoengineering and we request that, when the work is completed, the Government provide our successor committee with an explanation of how it will inform its policy on geoengineering. (Paragraph 58)

The formulation of a regulatory framework

11.  While accepting that the development of a "top-down" regulatory framework may have risks and limitations, we consider that these are outweighed by the benefits of an international framework: legitimacy; scientific standards; oversight mechanisms; and management of environmental and trans-boundary risks. (Paragraph 65)

12.  We welcome the production of the principles by a group of academics which provide a basis to begin the discussion of principles that could be applied to the regulation of geoengineering. (Paragraph 66)

13.  We conclude that Principle 1 of the suggested five key principles on how geoengineering research should be guided—"Geoengineering to be regulated as a public good"—needs, first, to be worked up in detail to define public good and public interest. Second, the implied restriction suggested in the explanatory text to the Principle on intellectual property rights must be framed in such a manner that it does not deter investment in geoengineering techniques. Without private investment, some geoengineering techniques will never be developed. (Paragraph 71)

14.  We conclude that Principle 2—"Public participation in geoengineering decision-making"—is to be supported but it needs to spell out in the explanatory text what consultation means and whether, and how, those affected can veto or alter proposed geoengineering tests. (Paragraph 74)

15.  We endorse Principle 3—"Disclosure of geoengineering research and open publication of results". The requirement to disclose the results of geoengineering research should be unqualified. We recommend that the Government press for an international database of geoengineering research to encourage and facilitate disclosure. (Paragraph 77)

16.  We also endorse Principle 4—"The independent assessment of impacts". But it too needs to be worked up in more detail in the explanatory text to: (i) define impacts; (ii) produce agreed mechanisms for assessing impacts, including for assessing the impact of global warming; and (iii) determine whether and how compensation should be assessed and paid. The agreement of these arrangements will need to command the broadest level of support across the globe and we consider that UN-led, multilateral processes are the best way to secure concurrence. (Paragraph 82)

17.  We endorse Principle 5—"Governance before deployment of any geoengineering technique". We recommend that the Government carry out research, and press for research to be carried out through international bodies on the legal, social and ethical implications, and regulation and governance of geoengineering. (Paragraph 84)

18.  We conclude that the key principles should not include the precautionary principle as a discrete principle. (Paragraph 86)

19.  While some aspects of the suggested five key principles need further development, they provide a sound foundation for developing future regulation. We endorse the five key principles to guide geoengineering research. (Paragraph 87)

Regulation of research and testing

20.  Provided those carrying out research follow a code of practice along the lines of that suggested by the Royal Society, incorporating in particular Principle 3 on the disclosure of geoengineering research and open publication of results, we see no reason for an international regulatory regime applying to paper and computer modelling of geoengineering techniques. (Paragraph 90)

21.  We consider that a ban, even a short-term ban, on all SRM geoengineering testing would prevent work on geoengineering as "Plan B". It may well also be unenforceable and be counter-productive as those carrying out tests do so in secrecy. (Paragraph 94)

22.  We conclude that development and small tests of SRM geoengineering should be allowed provided they:

a)  are fully in accordance with an internationally agreed set of principles such as those we have considered in this Report;

b)  have negligible or predictable environmental impact; and

c)  have no trans-boundary effects. (Paragraph 95)

23.  We consider that any testing that impacts on the climate must be subject to an international regulatory framework. (Paragraph 96)

24.  We recommend that any UK SRM programmes should involve international scientists, particularly including those from vulnerable developing countries, and that these programmes should give priority to research on SRM schemes that may preserve global public welfare. We further recommend that the UK Government press the governments of other countries to a adopt similar approach to SRM research. (Paragraph 98)

International regulatory arrangements

25.  We consider that the way forward for the regulation of geoengineering is through the UN and we recommend that the UK Government and other interested countries develop proposals for the regulation of not only CDR but also SRM techniques and begin to press them through the UN. (Paragraph 100)

26.  We recommend that the UK Government is proactive in persuading and working with other governments to press for regulatory arrangements for geoengineering through the UN. They should do this on the basis of the following principles and objectives:

a)  geoengineering to be regulated as a public good;

b)  public participation in geoengineering decision-making;

c)  disclosure of geoengineering research and open publication of results;

d)  independent assessment of impacts;

e)  governance arrangements to be clear before deployment;

f)     decisions to be based on the best scientific evidence, including social science;

g)  regulatory measures to be able to respond rapidly;

h)  regulatory measures imbued with a high level of flexibility to be able, for example, to encompass new technologies as they emerge; and

i)     prohibition of the use of geoengineering techniques for military purposes. (Paragraph 103)

27.  We recommend that the Government press for a suitable international body to commission a review of existing international and regional mechanisms to: (i) consider the relevant roles of the existing international bodies in the regulation of geoengineering; (ii) identify existing mechanisms that could be used to regulate geoengineering research and deployment activities, if suitably extended as necessary; and (iii) identify where regulatory gaps exist in relation to geoengineering methods proposed to date, and establish a process for the development of mechanisms to address these gaps. (Paragraph 106)

28.  We recommend that, in parallel with the development of an international regulatory framework, the UK Government press for the establishment of an international consortium, to explore the safest and most effective geoengineering options, while building a community of researchers and developers. (Paragraph 109)

29.  We recommend that the UK should take the lead in raising geoengineering within international bodies such as the EU and the Commonwealth. (Paragraph 112)

Collaborative working with the US Congress

30.  We must put on record that we are enthusiastic supporters of collaborative working between national legislatures on topics with international reach such as geoengineering and we consider that there are a range of measures that could be taken to streamline the process of collaborative working. (Paragraph 117)

31.  We conclude that in future collaborative working between legislatures House of Commons committees should request the committee with which collaboration is taking place to provide a "permanent" witness—either an official or member of the committee—to provide oral evidence via video link at all oral evidence sessions. (Paragraph 119)

32.  We consider that in future when House of Commons committees participate in collaborative work they should include a statement in the call for submissions that, subject to the appropriate considerations of privilege, memoranda received may be passed to the committee in the other legislature. Reciprocal arrangements should be sought from the other committee. It should also be agreed that the committee receiving the memorandum will arrange and lead on publication. (Paragraph 120)

33.  We consider that the House of Commons should consider procedural changes to the effect that, where a select committee resolves to carry out collaborative working with a committee in another national legislature, a member of that committee attend—or communicate via video link—private sessions of the House of Commons committee. (Paragraph 121)

34.  Science, technology and engineering are key to solving global challenges. Only through international collaboration will these challenges be met with success. We suggest that the next Science and Technology Committee should re-establish the working relationship with the US House of Representatives Science and Technology Committee. It should also consider making working connections with other international committees. (Paragraph 122)


35.  We are clear that serious consideration for the regulatory arrangements for geoengineering needs to start now, not once highly disruptive climate change is under way. (Paragraph 123)

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Prepared 18 March 2010