News - Harvard Project on Climate Agreements

Harvard Project Conducts Research Workshop on Governance of Solar Geoengineering

| Oct. 26, 2018

The Harvard Project on Climate Agreements conducted a research workshop, “Governance of the Deployment of Solar Geoengineering,” September 27 – 28, 2018 at Harvard Kennedy School.  Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program (HSGRP) collaborated and provided support for the workshop. Participants included 26 leading academic researchers addressing the workshop’s topic as well as scholars who had considered the governance of other international regimes that might provide lessons and insights for solar geoengineering governance.

At the bottom of this page are links to the agenda and participant list (combined in a single document), participant bios, a background brief prepared by HSGRP’s Faculty Director, David Keith, and colleague Peter Irvine, and most of the presentations from the workshop.

The workshop started from the premise that some types of solar geoengineering (SG) will be associated with incentive structures that are the inverse of those associated with efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The latter is a global commons problem that requires cooperation at the highest jurisdictional level (international cooperation) in order to advance significant mitigation.

In contrast, certain types of SG can — in principle — be implemented effectively at relatively low financial cost — low enough to be borne by small states or even non-state entities acting on their own. The impacts of such action, however, might be substantial, at regional or even global scales. These could include the intended beneficial impacts — decreased global average surface temperature — plus other, potentially adverse side effects. Given the incentive structure associated with SG, its potentially substantial impacts, and the uncertainty (of various kinds) surrounding it, the governance of SG deployment will be challenging.

The workshop began with overviews of research on SG governance from three disciplinary perspectives — social sciences broadly (including economics, political science, and international relations); legal scholarship; and, finally, further insights from economic theory.

Subsequent sessions addressed the following key questions, which arise, in part, from the incentive structure of SG governance:

 (1)  Who ought to and/or will specify criteria for SG deployment, and who ought to and/or is likely to decide when criteria are satisfied?

 (2)  What will or should these criteria be? They may include:

  1. Regulatory criteria developed by policy makers;
  2. Criteria specified by “agents”/actors who might engage in SG deployment;
  3. Physical, engineering, social, economic, ethical, and other dimensions.

(3)  How should/will decisions about deployment be made; what decision-making process should/will be utilized?

(4)  What institutions, either existing or new, are appropriate as decision-making venues? What will or should be the legal framework of such institutions?

(5) How might SG complement and/or undermine national, regional, and multilateral institutions and policy to mitigate or adapt to climate change — and, more broadly, to manage climate risks?

(6)  SG is both a hedge against uncertain but potentially catastrophic risks of (or, alternatively, damages from) climate change — and has its own associated risks, known and unknown. How can we better understand these uncertainties and incorporate them into useful decision-making processes?

 (7)  How might we best define a research agenda for the governance of SG deployment?

Finally, a panel of international-relations scholars discussed a set of international regimes — including nuclear arms control and cyber security — that may provide lessons for and insights into SG governance.

The workshop did not attempt to provide definitive answers to the above questions, but advanced understanding of this set of issues and will move the research community some steps further toward better understanding of options for the governance of SG deployment.

Each participant in the workshop is preparing a brief on an aspect of the topic of interest to them. These briefs are designed to be readily accessible by practitioners — policy makers, climate negotiators, and leaders in the business and NGO communities. The volume of briefs will be released by the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements in February 2019.

Agenda and Participant ListDownload here.

Participant BiosDownload here.

Background Brief:

The Science and Technology of Solar Geoengineering: A Compact Summary
David Keith, Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School. Faculty Director, Harvard's Solar Geoengineering Research Program
Peter Irvine, Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental Science and Engineering, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Workshop Presentations:

Status update on — and insights from — research in the social sciences on the governance of SG deployment
Scott Barrett, Lenfest – Earth Institute Professor of Natural Resource Economics, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University

Response to Scott Barrett
Stefan Schäfer, Research Group Leader, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) Potsdam

Response to Scott Barrett’s status update on social science research
Gernot Wagner, Research Associate and Executive Director, Harvard's Solar Geoengineering Research Program

Solar geoengineering and international law
Daniel Bodansky, Regent's Professor, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, Arizona State University

Why think about geoengineering now? Time is much shorter than most think
John P. Holdren, Teresa & John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy, Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, Harvard University

Thinking about SG — an economic perspective: governance of the deployment of solar geoengineering conference
Additional graph
Martin Weitzman, Research Professor of Economics, Harvard University

Thinking about climate change — an economic perspective
James Stock, Harold Hitchings Burbank Professor of Political Economy , Harvard University

Criteria for decision making on deployment (Questions 1–3)
Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School

Public perceptions of SG deployment and implications for governance
Dustin Tingley, Professor of Government, Harvard University
Links to debates on Kialo (also within presentation):

Institutional venues for governance of SG deployment (Questions 4–5)
David Victor, Professor of International Relations, School of Global Policy and Strategy, U.C. San Diego

Governing solar radiation management
Sikina Jinnah, Associate Professor of Politics, U.C. Santa Cruz

Uncertainty, ignorance and solar geoengineering
Richard Zeckhauser, Frank Plumpton Ramsey Professor of Political Economy, Harvard Kennedy School

Governance of SG deployment under conditions of uncertainty — Response
Daniel Heyen, Postdoctoral Researcher, Chair of Integrative Risk Management and Economics, ETH Zurich

How might we best define a research agenda for the governance of SG deployment?
Jesse Reynolds, Emmett/Frankel Fellow in Environmental Law and Policy, UCLA School of Law
David Keith, Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School. Faculty Director, Harvard's Solar Geoengineering Research Program.

For more information on this publication: Please contact Harvard Project on Climate Agreements
For Academic Citation: Stowe, Robert. “Harvard Project Conducts Research Workshop on Governance of Solar Geoengineering.” News, Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, October 26, 2018.

The Author


David Keith

Robert N. Stavins