GEOENGINEERING THE CLIMATE? What benefits? What impacts?

¿Cambiar el clima mediante la geoingeniería?: ¿Qué beneficios? ¿Qué impactos?

Transformer le climat par la géoingénierie: Quels avantages? Quels impacts?


As climate change impacts become more apparent and global negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are prolonged, have we adequately considered actions that complement carbon emission reductions, such as climate engineering or geoengineering? Geoengineering refers to deliberate large-scale interventions in the Earth’s climate system in order to moderate global warming. Do potential gains from using geoengineering to slow or contain climate change impacts outweigh possible negative impacts on people and biodiversity?

Indigenous peoples and local communities (ILCs) call for urgent action to stem the global climate change crisis, but they have also expressed concern about growing attention to ‘solutions’ such as geoengineering. The Anchorage Declaration, from the 2009 Indigenous Peoples Global Summit on Climate Change, states:

We challenge States to abandon false solutions to climate change that negatively impact Indigenous Peoples’ rights, lands, air, oceans, forests, territories and waters. These include nuclear energy, large-scale dams, geo-engineering techniques, “clean coal”, agro-fuels, plantations, and market based mechanisms such as carbon trading, the Clean Development Mechanism, and forest offsets.

On the other hand, at a 2010 UNESCO expert meeting on geoengineering, small island representatives like Liz Thompson, the former Minister of Energy & Environment of Barbados, engaged directly with the issue by asking whether we should be discussing mitigation vs geoengineering or rather mitigation plus geoengineering. Raising the issue of participation of Small Island Developing States in this debate, she also asked that more information on geoengineering be made available.

In a recent piece for the New York Times called “Geo-engineering can help save the planet”, ecologist Thomas Lovejoy says: “The power of ecosystem restoration to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide and avoid disruptive climate change is great but insufficient. We also need to use non-biological means to reduce atmospheric carbon…It is in our own self-interest to manage ourselves, the planet and its climate system in an integrated fashion. We can do so, and there are abundant economic possibilities in doing so, but the window of opportunity is closing rapidly.”

At the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), governments adopted a decision to

Compile and synthesize available scientific information, and views and experiences of indigenous and local communities and other stakeholders, on the possible impacts of geo engineering techniques on biodiversity and associated social, economic and cultural considerations, and options on definitions and understandings of climate-related geo-engineering relevant to the Convention on Biological Diversity. (COP 10, Decision X/33, Para 9(l))

In collaboration with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Climate Frontlines Forum is launching a discussion on geoengineering techniques and their potential impacts in order to understand the views and experiences of indigenous and local communities and other stakeholders. These discussions also provide an opportunity to consider additional issues, such as the governance of geoengineering research.

We propose a series of briefs on the following topics:

  • Geoengineering in brief
  • Solar geoengineering - some examples and impacts
  • Carbon geoengineering - some examples and impacts
  • Community participation and inclusion in impact assessments, and the potential role of the Akwe Kon Voluntary guidelines for the conduct of cultural, environmental and social impact assessments

Participants may also propose other issues to be considered in this discussion by writing to

Everyone is invited to participate in the discussions. If you are writing as a member of an indigenous or local community, let us know! Your input will be reflected in the CBD consultation process.

Your analyses and comments will be collated and a first summary of the discussions will be made available by 16 February 2012. A document of main messages that arise from these discussions will provide input to the 16th meeting of the Scientific Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA-16) under the agenda item on biodiversity and climate change.

You can respond by leaving comments here, by emailing comments to or by contributing to our Facebook group. To read on, go to the next section or sign up to our Facebook Group “Engineering the Climate? What benefits? What impacts?”

Table of Contents


(This comment has been translated from French. The original comment can be found here.)

Nature has its laws, standards, rhythm and way of functioning. Climate change is not new. It stems from the normal functioning and dynamics of nature and ecosystems, due to their structures and systems which naturally self-regulate without causing major upheavals. But the climate change we are witnessing today is the product of large-scale willful and anthropogenic abuse (as we all know). The acknowledged perpetrators of this abuse have been requested to take corrective action, but we all know this has led nowhere. While the outcome (of climate change) remains unknown, another unknown is being imposed on humanity by a handful of people whose motivations are remain obscure. Moreover, the protocols of geo-engineering initiatives have received neither the support nor the blessing of the presumed victims of climate change. Even if climate change will bring problems, geo-engineering as a solution would best be avoided.

We are curious to know:
- Who actually benefits from geo-engineering?
- Who is funding these geo-engineering initiatives?
- How much has already been invested in this kind of research?
- Couldn’t these investments be used to fight climate change in a different way, that wouldn’t cause further harm to humanity?
- Why can we not first repair the damage already caused by those responsible for the high levels of pollution that are the root of climate change?
- Is there a global authority that regulates this research?
- Is all research beneficial to humankind?

We fully support the 2009 Anchorage Declaration from the Indigenous Peoples Global summit on Climate Change, which remains just as relevant today. We also welcome the COP10 decision on biological diversity and climate change.

Faced with the makers and planners of illusions and catastrophes, we refuse to stand by helplessly because as Albert Einstein has said “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them and do nothing.”

Our indigenous and local communities know absolutely nothing about geo-engineering; they neither asked for it nor are they associated with it. What sustainable benefits will they gain from it?

Local communities have the required knowledge to best preserve biological diversity and find the necessary solutions to adapt to climate change. Examples exist and are self-evident. Unfortunately, these simple and inexpensive initiatives by indigenous and local communities are hardly taken into account. We urge the UN Security Council to fulfill its responsibilities by putting an end to these vague sorcerer's apprentice attempts that in fact serve selfish endsto the detriment of public good.

Patrice Sagbo
Local communities, Republic of Benin

(This comment has been translated from Spanish. The original comment can be found here.)

It is necessary to know more about the focus and uses of geoengineering

But it is important too to manifest that people with original cultures like those in the Amazon/Andes areas of Peru, have known for centuries to relate themselves with the vast, diverse and changing climate, even when there are drastic changes, they do it from they own point of view, way of feeling and living. Each one in their own way, without looking for recipes for the other peoples with original cultures, and have avoided this way the homogenization of the alternatives.

This comment was shared to the FB Group Engineering the Climate which can be found at

Mervyn Tano shares the following document ( and explains:

"Our intention originally was to describe a range of geo-engineering technologies then identify the impacts the application of these technologies would have on a broad range of tribal economic, environmental, social, political, cultural, and other interests. Here's the relevant part of the roundtable agenda:

Second Discussion. Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Technologies
There are generally three broad classes of climate mitigation technologies. The first envisions carbon capture and storage technologies that will permit continued use of fossil fuels. The second assumes the expansion of renewable and nuclear energy sources. Geoengineering, “options that would involve large-scale engineering of the environment in order to combat or counteract the effects of changes in atmospheric chemistry” comprises the third class of technologies. These include proposals to manage solar radiation or to increase the carbon uptake of oceans. Adaptation, “adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities” includes a multitude of technologies or activities including migration, developing drought resistant or salt tolerant food crops, and hardening infrastructure. What other climate mitigation or adaptation technologies or activities can affect tribal political, cultural, economic and other interests? Who are the proponents of these technologies and activities? In what fora or venues are these technologies and activities examined and discussed? How should tribal interests be represented? Who should represent tribal interests? What needs to be done to open these fora or venues to tribal representation? How do we prepare tribal representatives to participate in such for a or venues?

But as we point out in our report, after some discussion on seeding oceans with iron, introducing sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, etc. the reaction of the tribal participants was that, like Oakland, "there's no there there." If federal agencies, international organizations, research laboratories, or educational institutions want to engage tribes on issues related to these mitigation technologies, such engagement has to include, in the first instance, an effort to build the needed tribal systems and institutions."

He elaborates:

"I meant that tribes lack the scientific, legal, policy and other systems and institution that can assess geo-engineering technologies to identify potential impacts to a wide range of tribal interests. Neither do they have the resources nor perceived need to develop these systems and institutions. Thus, if federal agencies want tribes to weigh in on the application of these technologies they must first help the tribes develop the requisite systems and institutions."

As members of the working group of the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (SRMGI,, we write to commend the Climate Frontlines Forum and the Secretariat of the CBD for collecting views on the possible impacts of geoengineering techniques on biodiversity, and associated social, economic and cultural considerations. In our role at SRMGI, we are part of a growing initiative designed to broaden the discussion about the governance of solar radiation management research to include a wider range of perspectives, including those of local communities and indigenous peoples. With geoengineering research in its infancy, but interest in the topic growing, now is a key moment to establish critical governance norms that ensure climate interventions are undertaken only if and when the global community is confident such actions are safe, appropriate, and ethical.

What is Solar Radiation Management?

Solar Radiation Management (SRM) technologies propose to cool the Earth by reflecting a small percentage of inbound sunlight back into space, using a variety of potential methods, from dispersing aerosols in the upper atmosphere to brightening marine clouds with water vapor. Although major technological hurdles remain, these methods are likely to be relatively inexpensive to deploy (and thus could be implemented by a single country or even a wealthy individual), and would cool global temperatures in a few years.

There is currently insufficient scientific knowledge to evaluate whether it is possible to reduce solar radiation inputs to the Earth without causing unacceptable levels of disruption to regional and global weather patterns. The side effects of using SRM technologies, for example, are unclear, and would be unlikely to be restricted by national boundaries. Actions in one country would in all likelihood cause environmental and socio-economic and political effects in other countries. The potential for international tension over SRM, even over research, is clear. We are deeply concerned about the possibility of such consequences.

What Role does SRMGI Play?

While much of SRM research has taken place in the developed world, the implications of large-scale climate intervention technology, and thus discussions about its governance, are necessarily global. SRMGI was created to play a substantive and timely role in engaging a diverse community of international stakeholders to develop guidelines to ensure that geoengineering research is conducted in a manner that is transparent, responsible and environmentally sound, and reflects the concerns of the widest possible range of organizations and individuals from around the world. If handled well, SRM might one day be able to reduce some environmental risks from climate change. This could be especially valuable for those populations, including indigenous peoples and local communities, most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. However, if handled poorly, SRM could further increase environmental insecurity, delay necessary cuts in GHG emissions, and could be used by small groups or special interests to the detriment of other people.

In cooperation with local partner organizations, SRMGI has hosted constructive international workshops throughout the world that bring together natural and social scientists, development and environmental NGOs, and governance organizations from across the globe, including many from the developing world. These workshops advance three overlapping goals:

• To introduce the concept of SRM and the SRMGI project to local stakeholders;
• To seek input on SRM governance from partner organizations and local stakeholders; and
• To establish contacts and explore possibilities for future international cooperation on SRM governance.

What Needs to be Done?

The critical next steps need to be focused on fostering civil society conversations to ensure that we can collectively explore how to address research into geoengineering, as there is every reason to believe that there are a diversity of opinions on how to best proceed, given the wide range of vulnerabilities to both action and inaction. Although SRMGI focuses on one type of geoengineering technology - solar radiation management - the SRMGI process may provide an instructive and potentially valuable model for those interested in ensuring that research into geoengineering techniques is done thoughtfully and with sufficient safeguards to prevent unintended consequences, while advancing a global discourse on geoengineering governance.

We invite those interested in exploring the global governance implications of geoengineering to join us in the discussion and learn more about SRMGI at


Dr Paulo Artaxo
Professor, University of São Paulo
São Paulo, Brazil

Dr Arunabha Ghosh
Chief Executive Officer
Council on Energy, Environment and Water
New Delhi, India

Dr Sospeter M. Muhongo
Professor of Geology, University of Dar Es Salaam
Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Dr Pablo Suarez
Associate Director of Programmes
Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre
The Hague, The Netherlands