Governing Geoengineering Research

A Political and Technical Vulnerability Analysis of Potential Near-Term Options

by Robert J. Lempert, Don Prosnitz

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Geoengineering, the deliberate altering of the earth's climate, represents a risky and, for many, a frightening proposition. But the concept has attracted increasing interest in recent years because of its potential ability to transform the portfolio of options for limiting the magnitude of future climate change. In contrast to most approaches for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, some geoengineering approaches could prove fast acting and inexpensive and could be deployed by one or a few nations without global cooperation. These characteristics present significant challenges for risk management, national security, and international governance that have only just begun to be seriously considered. This report provides an initial examination and comparison of the risks associated with alternative international approaches the United States might pursue to govern solar radiation management geoengineering research and deployment. To handle the extensive, wide-ranging uncertainties, the authors employ a multiscenario vulnerability and response option analysis specifically designed to identify scenarios in which alternative U.S. government policies toward geoengineering governance might fail to meet their goals. In particular, the study used a simple simulation model to conduct the first steps of a robust decisionmaking analysis in order to identify some of the risks of three commonly debated near-term approaches to managing geoengineering: establishing strong norms for research, banning research entirely, or leaving research unregulated.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Governance and Security Challenges

  • Chapter Three

    A Vulnerability-and-Response-Option Analysis Framework for a Risk Assessment of Geoengineering Governance

  • Chapter Four

    Identifying the Vulnerabilities of Alternative U.S. Geoengineering Governance Policies

  • Chapter Five

    Conclusions and Next Steps

  • Appendix A

    Types of Geoengineering Technologies

  • Appendix B


  • Appendix C

    Conditional Probability Tables

This report is a product of the RAND Corporation's continuing program of self-initiated independent research. Support for such research is provided, in part, by donors and by the independent research and development provisions of RAND's contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers. The research was conducted jointly within the RAND Environment, Energy, and Economic Development Program of RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment and the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute.

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