C2G in 2020: Expanding the global debate

Janos PasztorBy Janos Pasztor / 28 January 2020

2020 started with an inferno. One of the most extensive bushfires in recorded history painted the Australian sky red, and created a smoke cloud that encircled the earth. The world watched in shock as thousands of people fled their homes, billions of dollars of economic value were lost, and up to a billion animals perished  – threatening the very survival of many species.

Yet, even as such terrible milestones grow more frequent, the world is not taking the collective action needed to keep global heating well below 2°C or 1.5°C. Instead, we are headed to 3°C or more, even if the current Paris pledges are met.

This year’s UN Climate Conference in Glasgow, UK, may come to be seen as a make-or-break moment, in which countries either raise their ambition to the level necessary to stave off even worse calamities, or send a message that the international system, as configured, is simply not up to the task: opening the door to other, hitherto untested and potentially much riskier responses.

All of this has major implications for C2G’s work.

The environmental community is increasingly acknowledging the IPCC consensus that all scenarios which would avoid 1.5°C+ heating include the large-scale removal of CO2 from the atmosphere, although there is little agreement on how. Recent advances in climate sensitivity modelling suggest even more CO2 removal could be needed than was thought.

As more groups look into this, they are coming to realise that large-scale CO2 removal – whether through nature-based or technological approaches – would be a herculean endeavour, requiring timely and additional governance to achieve the necessary scale in a way that is acceptable to society. (Note that C2G sees governance as a broad concept, which includes a society-wide debate.)

As this challenge becomes more apparent, and as the terrible cost of failing to meet it is underlined by each new crisis, there are signs that ideas about additional approaches such as solar radiation modification may gain prominence.

The US Congress, for example, recently allocated USD 4 million funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to conduct stratospheric monitoring and research, including assessments of “solar climate interventions” such as ”proposals to inject material [into the stratosphere] to affect climate change”.

The start of outdoor experiments under the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx) is slated for this year. The Harvard Geoengineering Research Program, which is conducting the experiment, has put ad hoc governance arrangements in place. However, at present, the world does not have multilateral governance mechanisms in place that would address the risks that outdoor experiments may pose.

To help meet these challenges, C2G has two overarching aims, which it seeks to achieve by 2023.

  • Catalyse discussions in 2022 on the governance of solar radiation modification, including potentially in the UN General Assembly, the world’s most universal body. This would build on information in the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), also to be released in 2021-2022, which will provide all governments with a common platform of information with which to make decisions.
  • Help key intergovernmental and societal processes take on board the governance of solar radiation modification and large-scale carbon dioxide removal. This would include C2G’s evolving functions being transitioned to inter-governmental or civil society organisations.

Expanding the governance conversation in 2020

Given the early state of debate about these technologies, achieving these goals requires a lot of work over the coming year, across multiple fronts.

This includes expanding outreach through partners to African, Latin American and Asian policymakers and civil society groups, so they can prepare for the potential renewal of global discussions on SRM and perhaps CDR at the 5th UN Environment Assembly in February 2021, or in other international fora.

We also hope to expand our outreach to young people, who in 2019 emerged as an increasingly influential constituency in climate discussions, and who will face many difficult decisions about climate-altering technologies in their lifetimes. It is important for new generations to inject their voice into the governance debate today.

Working with those that joined the conversation, we will also support continued discussions of both CDR and SRM governance at the highest levels of the UN system.

Increasingly all these outreach activities will take place digitally, and through other actors. This will help reduce the greenhouse gas impact of our mission, and is part of our approach to build capacity within national and local organisations, so that over time they can take ownership of the governance debate.

Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) governance in 2020 

To advance the conversation specifically about CDR governance, in 2020 we would aim to:

  • Work with governments and civil society organisations on how to address governance gaps ahead of the 2020 UNFCCC COP in Glasgow, UK, and the Convention on Biological Diversity COP in Kunming, China.
  • Catalyse a multi-stakeholder forum to help scale acceptable CDR approaches.
  • Assist in creating capacity within the international system and within CSOs to address CDR governance.

In practice, this will require briefings, webinars and workshops around the world to increase understanding on how and why CDR governance is an essential part of increasing ambition under the Paris Agreement, and for upholding the Sustainable Development Goals.

Given the state of the debate in 2020, we envisage a focus on the governance of nature-based approaches, including how permanence and scale-up might be achieved in a way that takes account of climate, biodiversity, food security and other sustainable development objectives.

Solar Radiation Modification (SRM) governance in 2020

To advance the conversation specifically about SRM governance, in 2020 we would aim to:

  • Increase awareness of the need for multilateral governance amongst diplomatic missions to the UN in New York and in national capitals. This would also include the geopolitical and security implications of some SRM technologies, and how multilateral governance might help mitigate them.
  • Raise awareness about plans for IPCC AR6 to address SRM governance, to help regional and international experts respond to its findings.
  • Encourage coverage of these issues in international journals and other outlets.

Ramping up a broader understanding of urgency

In all cases, our core message is that addressing the governance of climate-altering technologies is no longer an issue for some indistinct future, but an urgent challenge today.

We welcome your support in sharing this message with the many constituencies that need to be part of equitable decision-making.

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