PS: Political Science & Politics

Symposium: Climate Change Justice

Situating and Abandoning Geoengineering: A Typology of Five Responses to Dangerous Climate Change

Clare Heyward

University of Oxford

Geoengineering, the “deliberate, large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment in order to counteract anthropogenic climate change” (Shepherd et al. 2009, 1), is attracting increasing interest. As well as the Royal Society, various scientific and government organizations have produced reports on the potential and challenge of geoengineering as a potential strategy, alongside mitigation and adaptation, to avoid the vast human and environmental costs that climate change is thought to bring (Blackstock et al. 2009; GAO 2010; Long et al. 2011; Rickels et al. 2011). “Geoengineering” covers a diverse range of proposals conventionally divided into carbon dioxide removal (CDR) proposals and solar radiation management (SRM) proposals. This article argues that “geoengineering” should not be regarded as a third category of response to climate change, but should be disaggregated. Technically, CDR and SRM are quite different and discussing them together under the rubric of geoengineering can give the impression that all the technologies in the two categories of response always raise similar challenges and political issues when this is not necessarily the case. However, CDR and SRM should not be completely subsumed into the preexisting categories of mitigation and adaptation. Instead, they can be regarded as two parts of a five-part continuum of responses to climate change. To make this case, the first section of this article discusses whether geoengineering is distinctive, and the second situates CDR and SRM in relation to other responses to climate change.

Clare Heyward is a James Martin Research Fellow in the Oxford Geoengineering Programme, Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, and the Institute for Science Innovation and Society at the University of Oxford. Heyward is interested in issues of global justice and climate change, especially the cultural dimensions of climate justice and justice toward future generations. She conducts research into the ethical and governance issues associated with the broad range of proposed geoengineering techniques, working at the interface between the governance and ethics of geoengineering. She can be reached at