How does this low representation affect the content of current climate engineering discourses? How are the aspirations and voices of developing countries, in particular those of the least developed countries, represented in climate engineering science? How are their interests, special circumstances and vulnerabilities addressed? We studied this question by conducting a detailed content analysis of reports that have emerged out of the epistemic community on climate engineering. First, we studied the representation of interests of developing and least developed countries in two major climate engineering assessments conducted by interdisciplinary research groups in Europe and the United States. Second, we analysed the content of those few reports that have resulted from workshops that focused on developing countries and/or that were held in a developing country, looking for key interests and concerns on climate engineering from a developing country perspective. In all cases, we studied not only the content of the reports but also the overall context, including data on participation in the production of the report, its mandate and any sponsoring organisations. While our main research focus is representation of the 47 least developed countries, we employed for practical reasons a wider definition in our content analysis and looked also at general references to ‘developing countries’ or ‘poorer countries’.
We identify the degree of marginalisation of the concerns of least developed countries based on four indicators, which we derived from general position papers of least developed countries in multilateral negotiations:
Vulnerability First, we scrutinised the texts with a view to explicit considerations for the special concerns of least developed countries relating to their high poverty, limited human assets and high economic vulnerability. To what extent are implicit or explicit risk assessments in climate engineering discourses cognizant of the particularly high vulnerability of the least developed countries?
Role acknowledgement Second, we analysed how the role of least developed countries is described in the reporting (to the extent that they are explicitly mentioned). Are they presented as active stakeholders in research and decision-making; are they rather seen as passive onlookers; or are they not mentioned at all?
Decision-making and governance Third, recent discourses on climate engineering engaged in initial debates on governance and decision-making regarding such technologies. In general, least developed countries in United Nations negotiations prefer multilateral decision-making based on sovereign equality and effective involvement of all countries, as opposed to, for instance, more restricted international fora such as the Group of 8, or fora with weighted voted such as the World Bank. We hence scrutinised the texts with regards to how suggested modes of decision-making and governance of climate engineering (if any) refer to multilateral institutions where least developed countries have some influence and voting power (such as the United Nations) or rather refer to ‘minilateral’ modes of governance (for example by centring on the Group of 7 or the Group of 20) or to private modes of governance that build on the leadership of major corporations or scientific organisations dominated by Northern countries.
Equity Fourth, we analysed the texts regarding possible discussions on questions of global equity, justice and fairness, an issue consistently emphasised by representatives of least developed countries in international negotiations. While there is no generally accepted theory or understanding of global justice despite a lively debate in this field, we were curious to what extent the analysed documents would pay any attention to such ethical questions in the first place, and what the respective conclusions were.
Mainstream documents on climate engineering
To answer these questions, we first analysed central documents of the climate engineering debate, focusing on two of the most extensive assessments on climate engineering: the 2015 European Transdisciplinary Assessment of Climate Engineering (EuTRACE) (Schäfer et al. 2015) and the 2015 Climate Intervention assessment conducted by the United States National Academy of Sciences (McNutt et al. 2015a, b). The EuTRACE report presents results from a 2-year, EU-funded project that brought together experts from 14 European institutions. In 170 pages, it informs the European Commission on how climate engineering could relate to its ambitious climate targets. The National Academy of Sciences report is a two-volume document of 375 pages on climate intervention techniques, presenting the results of a 2-year enquiry mandated by the US government. Our choice of these reports is motivated by their comprehensive approach and their direct relevance to policy making. Similar to the IPCC assessment reports, these documents are compiled by large groups of researchers that aim to create a state-of-the-art overview for decision-makers.
Overall, the EuTRACE report evidences a lack of attention for what large-scale climate engineering technologies might imply for the livelihoods of the world’s poorest. Only indirectly does it refer to risks and resource demands in developing countries, for instance, by pointing out issues like land use competition and enhanced effectiveness of some techniques in places that have ‘favourable conditions’ (which, upon closer inspection of the cited sources, are often in equatorial regions). In a few cases, it mentions geographical regions like the Amazon and the Sahel, which would suffer disproportionally from certain types of solar radiation management. Regarding the political representation of developing countries, the report acknowledges that international decision-making is prone to excluding or marginalising those who are particularly vulnerable and mentions procedural norms as a way towards overcoming these difficulties. It also points out that transparency is an important instrument to create legitimacy for research, stating that an independent international or regional body would be required to assess the desirability of outdoor experimentation. It then goes on, however, to suggest that regional and national levels might be more appropriate in thinking about climate engineering governance.
Equity, fairness and justice is understood in this report mostly in terms of inter-generational equity, although reference is made to the prospect of ‘distributional conflicts’ that might arise when it comes to cost-sharing and risk distribution associated with climate engineering (Schäfer et al. 2015, p. 74). In one instance, the report mentions that ‘those geographically and economically most vulnerable to climate change, often living at the subsistence level, would be most likely affected by uneven effects of SAI [stratospheric aerosol injection]’ (Schäfer et al. 2015, p. 77). Similarly, the issue of increasing food prices is mentioned only twice in the context of land conversion and the use of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. Another fairness issue that the report briefly reflects upon is compensation, essentially concluding that the attribution of cause and effect for a working compensation mechanism would be short of impossible. Despite a number of these indirect hints at risks and resources that might be particularly important for least developed countries, overall the report lacks attention for the inherent inequalities and power imbalances that any large-scale climate engineering endeavour would entail.
Compared with the European EuTRACE report, the National Academy of Sciences report places carbon dioxide removal techniques more explicitly into the context of climate change mitigation and adaptation. It also takes a much less critical stance concerning feasibility and potential side effects of this technology group, repeatedly writing that many forms of carbon dioxide removal are benign and do not pose novel risks or governance issues. Its estimates for the potential of such techniques to absorb carbon dioxide are consistently higher than that of the EuTRACE report, and although it recognises that the ‘benign’ methods of afforestation and the use of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage will require massive amounts of land and could create significant competition with food production, the most outspoken criticism of the approach merely is that ‘land management approaches—including afforestation, reforestation and bioenergy production—have the potential to initiate debates over land use’ (McNutt et al. 2015a, p. 98). The special interests or vulnerabilities of developing countries and least developed countries are not addressed, although all carbon dioxide removal techniques are assessed on a global level and repeatedly emphasise the tropics as an area of high potential.
Governance of carbon dioxide removal is omitted entirely, apart from suggestions for national bodies that could play a role for governing research in the United States. Developing countries are only mentioned in the context of climate change posing a global challenge in which many nations will have to do their share. Most explicitly, the report states that ‘the social context [of carbon dioxide removal] is less about understanding how one set of actions affects the global climate or large numbers of people in the short term and more about how to mobilise multiple nations to engage in a coordinated effort’ (McNutt et al. 2015a, p. 99).
Methods to modify the planet’s albedo are discussed in the second climate intervention report by the National Academy of Sciences. Vulnerabilities of developing and least developed countries are addressed in the context of a warming climate, stating that while industrialised economies may be able to adapt to climate change, ‘the outlook is more pessimistic for the less industrialised societies and economies of the world, and grimmer still for many natural terrestrial, aquatic and oceanic ecosystems’ (McNutt et al. 2015b, p. 20). This vulnerability is used as one of the main reasons for which research on albedo modification should be conducted, outlining a scenario in which crop failure in the tropics could lead to ‘intense pressure to temporarily reduce temperatures to provide additional time for adaptation’ and a possible ensuing deployment of albedo modification in the absence of sufficient knowledge about the technology (McNutt et al. 2015b, p. 32).
Developing countries are not assigned an active role in this report. Instead, the United States is portrayed as a norm entrepreneur that could provide a model for researchers and funding agencies in other countries. It is assumed that only economically powerful countries could initiate an attempt at unilateral (‘unsanctioned’) albedo modification in the first place, and China as well as India are discussed in terms of regional climate engineering. Simultaneously, the report makes clear that ‘governance’ does not equate ‘regulation’ and that a lack of explicit national or international regulation should not necessarily stand in the way of smaller-scale research.
The ethical section of the report mentions the ‘additional ethics issues’ that arise from the imposition of those who deploy albedo modification measures on those who have no say and who may not favour the deployment. In the wake of this observation, the report points out further need for research on who should have decision-making power and capacity. The explicit inclusion of the ‘marginalised, vulnerable and voiceless populations’ described earlier and the need to consult them is not expressed.
Documents from workshops held in the South
Several workshops on climate engineering have been held in developing countries in recent years. How are the least developed countries and their interests framed in documents that emerged from these few workshops? We analysed here in detail the content of reports that have resulted from six workshops that focused on developing countries and/or that were held in a developing country.
Africa In Africa, we studied three workshops on climate engineering that were organised in a collaborative effort of the African Academy of Sciences and the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative: on 27 June 2012 in Dakar, Senegal, on ‘Governance of Solar Radiation Management Research: African Perspectives’; on 28 September 2012 in Boksburg, South Africa, on ‘Solar Geoengineering: Research, Governance, and African Involvement’, and on 14 January 2013 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on ‘African Involvement in Solar Geoengineering’. All together, these workshops were attended by about hundred participants from 21 African (mostly least developed) countries; most participants were scientists. All workshops discussed solar radiation management only; their results were summarised in a single report (African Academy of Sciences and Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative 2013). (We are not aware of comparable events in Africa on carbon dioxide removal.)
The meetings all began with introductions to climate change in Africa (given by a South Africa-based expert) and to the idea of solar radiation management (given by a United Kingdom- or United States-based expert). The lectures were followed by an exercise with pre-formulated scenarios, which participants were asked to rate on a scale from desired facilitation to desired prohibition. Although participation was encouraged, the workshops seemed to rely very much on the information presented by Northern experts to the audience, rather than fostering free engagement with various sources.
While different views were expressed during these exercises, several common themes and concerns can be identified, most of which differ from the mainstream North American or European reports. First, participants highlighted several special African concerns, notably the risks to African agriculture and regional differences in impacts. In addition, participants stated that alternative approaches such as reforestation and afforestation are not discussed sufficiently. Overall, the workshops revealed the widespread perception of lack of capacity and knowledge in Africa to effectively engage in global debates on this novel set of technologies. These concerns are reflected in the roles that participants foresee for Africa, which are largely focused on African scientists as contributors in research programmes and as experts who inform their governments. The framing is likely to be influenced by the selection of participants, who largely represented the African science community with few government officials or civil society representatives involved.
Participants also expressed views about the modes of global governance that should regulate the debate, if not deployment, of climate engineering technologies. For one, participants saw an important role for African countries to continue pushing industrialised countries to increase efforts towards decarbonisation, hence making climate engineering unnecessary in the first place. In addition, the African discourse seems to suggest a preference for strong global institutions, for instance an independent and transparent international body to regulate outdoor solar radiation management experimentation, either through the World Meteorological Organization, installed through the UN Security Council, or independently. More generally, African experts argued in favour of a strong role of the African Union; stronger facilitation by universities and governments for indoor research; full transparency of involved researchers and related funding mechanisms; and the bottom-up involvement of developing countries.
Asia and Pacific In Asia, we study two expert workshops, the first of which was held in 2011 in Singapore on ‘Governing Geoengineering in the Twenty-first Century: Asian Perspectives’, organised by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, the Oxford Geoengineering Programme and the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies 2011). The agenda of this small workshop on supposedly ‘Asian Perspectives’ was highly dominated by speakers from the North, from the universities of Oxford, Leeds, Southampton and Tokyo, and the United States-based Environmental Defense Fund, with additional videoconferencing with panel members of the British Royal Society. Asian experts seem to have spoken in plenary only in one session on country perspectives, and a session on civil society perspectives. The other participants of the workshop—only 13 names are listed—are largely representatives from Singaporean agencies. Despite its broad title, by no means can this workshop be characterised as a comprehensive, open discussion of perspectives from Asia and the Pacific. The report that has been made available after the workshop should hence be seen largely as a compilation of views from the experts from the United Kingdom and the United States, possibly influenced by comments from the Singaporeans—but not as an original contribution of Asian perspectives.
A second event was held in New Delhi, India, in 2014, organised jointly by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (an Indian policy research institution) and the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom. Given the strong role of the Indian organisers—and presumably the Council’s influential chairperson, Suresh Prabhu, and other internationally leading Indian experts—the meeting saw a much stronger presence and participation of Southern voices compared to the other workshops held in developing countries. Possibly as a result, the workshop report is more focused on considerations of equity and global justice, with the report’s summary even ending with a statement to the effect that the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities ‘will be of concern to many countries involved in action against anthropogenic climate change, including India’ (Council on Energy Environment and Water 2014, p. 16). It also appears that the conference overall veered towards a more critical stance vis-à-vis some of these technologies, arguing in the report among others that, ‘Due to lack of opt-out option, issues in delineating research from deployment and concerns of possible militarisation and regional destabilisation, few saw SAI [stratospheric aerosol injection] as governable’ (Council on Energy Environment and Water 2014, p. 16).
In addition, one workshop—held in August 2013 in Suva, Fiji—addressed the situation of the Pacific islands (Beyerl and Maas 2014). The workshop was co-hosted by the Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development at the University of the South Pacific and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany. About 40 experts participated, a third of whom were faculty and students from the Pacific Centre in Fiji. Other participants included representatives from science, civil society, religious organisations and governments in the region, along with four members of the United States embassy and USAID. The workshop proceedings evidence a unidirectional flow of information, with all substantive presentations being made by the German experts. Discussions with representatives from the region revealed a number of key concerns, notably the urge to focus, first, on mitigation, the need to adopt a precautionary approach and for ‘regulatory and enforceable governance structures’ before any significant field testing and implementation of climate engineering technologies’ can be done. Overall, experts in Pacific island states seem to be largely uninformed and disconnected with the emerging climate engineering discourse in the North, and unprepared so far to develop a strong policy position.