From smokestacks and exhaust pipes, the planet is already undergoing a large-scale, unregulated climate engineering experiment, according to Keith, so small, well-monitored experiments will likely have negligible effects on local weather patterns and be practically invisible globally.
So how do you make sure scientists geoengineer responsibly?
Keith and his co-author, Edward Parson, a professor at the Emmett Center for Climate Change and Law at the University of California, Los Angeles, suggested forging an international agreement to ensure that no one runs an experiment that could ruin the world, setting informal guidelines at first but agreeing to the same set of rules. That way, a rogue scientist could not shop for a country with lax rules to conduct his or her tests.
"You need international law to coordinate controls," Parson explained, noting that there are already international agreements banning research on certain types of weapons and technologies. However, a geoengineering agreement would still have to permit, even encourage, research within established boundaries, making it a unique legal prospect.
"A prohibition of research isn't the sensible response because geoengineering has this two-edged character," said Parson, observing that it has tremendous potential but also carries huge risks. In addition, he said, the moratorium on large projects may one day have to end, so it is important to create policies proactively. "We might need these things if we fail in prudently responding to climate change," he said.
Parsons said one way this agreement could happen is if science agencies from about a dozen countries collaborate at the outset to develop geoengineering rules, weighing such proposals in an open forum along with climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. From there, policymakers and researchers could work toward a broader global protocol for conducting experiments on how to cool the planet, creating another tool to avert a catastrophe.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500