IPCC treads carefully on geoengineering: UN panel says it will review science but take no stand on governance

[ download press release PDF here ] [ español ]

LIMA, Peru – As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wound up its expert meeting on geoengineering in Lima, Peru, which included all three IPCC Working Groups, it committed to remain “policy relevant but not policy prescriptive.” Despite getting off on the wrong foot (no transparency), with some of the wrong experts (scientists with financial interests), on some of the wrong topics (governance), the IPCC has now confirmed that it will not make recommendations to governments regarding research funding for the controversial technologies, governance models or the legality of experimentation.

At a press briefing following the close of the expert meeting, the IPCC stated that its focus will be “establishing the scientific foundations for an assessment of geoengineering.” This assessment would include risks, costs, benefits and social and economic impacts, intended and unintended consequences as well as uncertainties and gaps in knowledge and will be based solely on peer-reviewed literature. “Of course, a real assessment of geoengineering will need to be much broader than a scientific peer-review process,” said Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group from Lima, though outside the meeting. “Civil society organizations have been clear that we do not want these dangerous technologies developed; they are a new threat from the very same countries that are responsible for the climate crisis in the first place!”

Dr. Chris Field, Co-chair of Working Group II (vulnerability, adaptation, impacts), said that while the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) would consider peer-reviewed literature on the question of governance, that debate would take place “at higher levels” – presumably referring to intergovernmental negotiations ongoing at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which adopted a moratorium on geoengineering activities in October 2010. Dr. Ramon Pichs-Madruga, Co-chair of Working Group III (mitigation), stated that all stakeholders would have a chance to comment on the IPCC’s treatment of geoengineering in the regular schedule of IPCC meetings over the next two years, and that civil society input was welcome, particularly given geoengineering’s controversial nature.


The CBD is in the midst of holding a series of consultations that have been open to organizations of varying viewpoints. This is in marked contrast to the series of Chatham House chats on geoengingineering governance that have taken place over the past year. Overwhelmingly, those have been invitation-only and dominated by geoengineering advocates (e.g., Asilomar conference on climate intervention, the Royal Society’s Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative, the International Risk Governance Council).

Last week, 160 organizations from around the world sent an open letter to IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri expressing concerns about the IPCC expert meeting. “The IPCC has assured us it will go forward carefully in this work, and will not overstep its mandate by making governance recommendations. We will be closely following the process,” said Ribeiro. “Geoengineering is too dangerous to too many people and to the planet to be left in the hands of small group of so-called experts. Geoengineering should be an issue at the Rio+20 conference in June 2012.”

2 thoughts on “IPCC treads carefully on geoengineering: UN panel says it will review science but take no stand on governance

  1. What a shame that the IPCC didn’t dare do anything about the on-going geo-engineering. One wonders where they get their funding.


  2. I am sorry, but I think that geo-engineering might be necessary to ensure our survival.

    Do you truly think that people are going to reduce their carbon emissions on a large scale? As an American, I can tell you that many people here don’t even believe in the existence of manmade global warming. They have no intention of giving up their hummers, and they have buddies in Washington who are going to stop any attempts.

    Several times, the UN has met to deal with climate change in the orthodox way. Several times, mediocre, non-binding agreements were reached. Those were not enough.

    Geoengineering might be playing god, but it could be a necessary evil if we are to ensure our species’ and civilization’s survival. We simply do not have enough political willpower to deal with the problem head-on, and a solution with unintended side-effects is better than no solution at all.

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