International Law in the Anthropocene: Responding to the Geoengineering Challenge

From The Odyssey to The Tempest and beyond, the control and deliberate manipulation of the weather constitutes an enduring and universal theme in myth and literature. In the twenty-first century, it is scientists and engineers rather than authors and artists who dream of weather and climate control, and their story, as described by James Rodger Fleming, “is not, in essence, a heroic saga about new scientific discoveries that can save the planet, as many of the participants claim, but a tragicomedy of overreaching, hubris, and self-delusion.” This notwithstanding, the argument that we should deliberately manipulate earth systems and natural processes (referred to as geoengineering) to mitigate the impact of inevitable climate change has moved from the fringes to the mainstream of scientific and policy debate. Almost as many scientific and policy papers have been published on geoengineering during the last three years as in the preceding thirty years. The 2009 Royal Society report entitled Geoengineering the Climate: Science, Governance and Uncertainty provided the catalyst for a series of government reports in both the United Kingdom and the United States exploring technological and governance issues associated with geoengineering for climate change mitigation purposes, as well as focusing media attention on these proposals. At the international level, geoengineering has reached the agendas of the European Parliament, as well as meetings of parties to the 1996 Protocol to the 1972 London Convention8 and the 1992 Biodiversity Convention. Noted in a mere paragraph in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (and ignored in the Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change released by the British government in 2006), geoengineering is slated for serious consideration in a designated chapter in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report due to be published in 2013-2014. In contrast to other climate change mitigation measures-such as CO2 sequestration-geoengineering features regularly in the mainstream media and has provided the subject matter for several popular science books.