Tuesday, October 26, 2010

GAO On Climate Change Geoengineering Strategy & Governance

Oct 26: The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) just released a report entitled, Climate Change: A Coordinated Strategy Could Focus Federal Geoengineering Research and Inform Governance Efforts (GAO-10-903, September 23, 2010). The report was prepared for the Chairman, of the House Committee on Science and Technology, Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN).
    GAO indicates that policymakers have raised questions about geoengineering -- large-scale deliberate interventions in the earth's climate system to diminish climate change or its impacts -- and its role in a broader strategy of mitigating and adapting to climate change. Most geoengineering proposals fall into two categories: carbon dioxide removal (CDR), which would remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, and solar radiation management (SRM), which would offset temperature increases by reflecting sunlight back into space.

    GAO was asked to examine (1) the state of geoengineering science, (2) Federal involvement in geoengineering, and (3) the views of experts and Federal officials about the extent to which Federal laws and international agreements apply to geoengineering, and any governance challenges. GAO examined relevant scientific and policy studies, relevant domestic laws and international agreements, analyzed agency data describing relevant research for fiscal years 2009 and 2010, and interviewed Federal officials and selected recognized experts in the field.

    GAO found that few geoengineering experiments or modeling studies have been conducted, and major uncertainties remain on the efficacy and potential consequences of geoengineering approaches. GAO's review of relevant studies and discussions with selected experts indicated that relatively more laboratory and field research relevant to certain CDR approaches exists, although most of this research was not designed to apply to geoengineering. In contrast, few modeling studies or field experiments have focused on SRM approaches, according to experts and recent studies. Experts identified only one SRM field experiment with published results -- a 2009 Russian experiment that injected aerosols into the middle troposphere to measure their reflectivity. Experts, as well as relevant studies, identified several major uncertainties in need of further investigation for CDR and SRM.
    Federal agencies identified 52 research activities, totaling about $100.9 million, relevant to geoengineering during fiscal years 2009 and 2010. GAO's analysis found that 43 activities, totaling about $99 million, focused either on mitigation strategies or basic science. Most of the research focused on mitigation efforts, such as geological sequestration of CO2, which were identified as relevant to CDR approaches but not designed to address them directly. GAO found that nine activities, totaling about $1.9 million, directly investigated SRM or less conventional CDR approaches. Officials from interagency bodies coordinating Federal responses to climate change indicated that their offices have not developed a coordinated strategy, and believe that, due to limited federal investment, it is premature to coordinate geoengineering activities. However, Federal officials also noted that a large share of existing federal climate science research could be relevant to geoengineering. Agencies requested roughly $2 billion for such activities in fiscal year 2010. Without a coordinated federal strategy for geoengineering, it is difficult for agencies to determine the extent of relevant research, and policymakers may lack key information to inform subsequent decisions on geoengineering and existing climate science efforts.
    According to legal experts and Federal officials, the extent to which Federal laws and international agreements apply to geoengineering is unclear. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken steps to regulate one CDR approach and has determined that it has sufficient authority to regulate two other approaches. EPA officials said EPA has not assessed the applicability of other laws because geoengineering research is in its initial stages. Similarly, legal experts and Department of State officials said that, except for three instances, parties to international agreements have not addressed their agreements' applicability to geoengineering, largely due to limited geoengineering activity and awareness of the issue. Legal experts' and officials' views differed on the best approach for international governance, but generally agreed that the Federal government should take a coordinated, interagency approach on domestic regulation. Experts and officials also identified governance challenges, such as the need to address liability.
    GAO recommended that within the Executive Office of the President, the appropriate entities, such as the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), establish a clear strategy for geoengineering research in the context of the Federal response to climate change to ensure a coordinated Federal approach. GAO said that OSTP neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but provided technical comments.
     In a related matter on March 2010, a week-long International Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies was held in Pacific Grove, CA (March 22-26). The conference included conversations and discussions on climate intervention and guidelines for research and experimentation. The conference was developed by Dr. Margaret Leinen of the Climate Response Fund, a non-profit based in Alexandria, VA in partnership with Guttman Initiatives. The scientific program was organized by an international scientific committee chaired by Dr. Michael MacCracken of the Climate Institute, based in Washington, DC [See WIMS 3/30/10].
    Access the complete 70-page report (click here). Access a November 5, 2009 House Science Committee hearing on Geoengineering including links to testimony, Chairman's statement, background document and a webcast (click here). Access numerous House Science Committee links to Geoengineering (click here).

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