Geoengineering summer school: Anjali’s diary

Guest Post by Anjali Viswamohanan

The Sixth Geoengineering Governance Summer School in Banff, Alberta, 6-8 August 2019, brought together people from around the world to consider some of the knotty questions around large-scale carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation modification. C2G co-sponsored the Summer School and supported the participation of 2 developing country scholars.

 Anjali Viswamohanan is an energy policy enthusiast with an interest in forming and assessing energy transition scenarios as a response to the perpetually evolving technology mix. She is currently a Chevening scholar at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, where she is pursuing a master’s in public policy. She is a lawyer by training and has previously worked on energy projects and public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the Indian infrastructure space. This is her daily diary of the event.

 [The views of guest post authors are their own. C2G does not necessarily endorse the opinions stated in guest posts. We do, however, encourage a constructive conversation involving multiple viewpoints and voices.]

 3 August, 2109 – Oxford, Oxfordshire

There is a lot to look forward to from the five days at the Summer School, with a packed schedule, and new faces from across the world, with very diverse academic and professional backgrounds. I am also looking forward to putting on my newly acquired policy hat instead of the lawyer one I’ve been using so far.

While I have dabbled in some aspects of solar geoengineering governance before, the Summer School will also delve into governance of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies, which is (relatively) unexplored territory for me. The recommended reading list contains a number of interesting papers on the science and governance of both CDR and solar geoengineering, and what struck me is the vast level of uncertainty around the costs and methods of scaling-up of CDR technologies. The challenges surrounding CDR governance appear to be just as confounding and fascinating as those related to solar geoengineering.

6 August– Banff, Alberta

We were forewarned that day 1 of the Summer School schedule would be crammed with technical briefings! There was a lot of information to process and many questions from the participants. The topics ranged from the science and governance of CDR and solar geoengineering, to understanding the different assessment models, identifying uncertainties, biases and equity issues. A post-dinner Q&A session to simplify some of the concepts proved useful.

Some of the newer methods on addressing regional impacts of climate change were of particular interest to me, specifically Dr. Kate Ricke’s work on marine geoengineering and artificial upwelling. There were also some very interesting issues raised about limitations of modelling, reviewers’ perception biases, and communication issues concerning technologies.

Overall, a very insightful day!

7 August

There were a bunch of things to enjoy today – including a briefing presentation on Harvard’s Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx) plans and its governance process, which aims to explore the possibilities for using Stratospheric Aerosol Injection (SAI) to lower temperatures. This was followed by a short panel discussion on engaging developing countries in the discussion on geoengineering research and its governance.

I spoke on India’s current mitigation and adaptation policies, and delved into the short history of geoengineering research in India. Current research on SRM in India focuses on understanding the impact of SAI on developing countries.

While there are many potential gains from SAI for developing countries that are currently bearing the brunt of climate change impacts, there are significant concerns regarding the potential effects on rainfall patterns. There is also the risk of moral hazard, which is that any consideration of solar geoengineering draws attention or could draw attention away from efforts to actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With countries adopting very different domestic approaches owing to the uncertain impacts of solar geoengineering, there arises an imminent need for global discussion on governance.

Team photo at the Banff Geoengineering Governance Summer School

8 August

This morning was given over to a scenarios exercise. There were a total 4 scenarios set around events in 2040, to help us think about governance issues facing SRM. Each scenario was given to two teams.

My team’s scenario was centered around a few vulnerable countries – who were also large fossil fuel producers and consumers – unilaterally deploying SAI (on a minimal scale), and seeking co-operation from the rest of the world to develop a global governance system.

Our task was to advise permanent members of the Security Council, and other prominent world powers such as Germany and Japan, on their response. We unanimously decided to condemn the unilateral deployment, to put control back into the hands of the major world powers, and to de-stabilize the coalition of vulnerable countries.

Right there was my biggest takeaway from the scenario exercise: unilateral deployment is not going to work out well for anybody!

9 August

A significant portion of time was allocated to the development of our own ideas, and engaging with others to make something of them. We were encouraged to come up with suggestions for topics interesting enough for other participants to want to work on, which could potentially result in a product by the end of our time in Banff.

An initial list of 50+ ideas was narrowed down to 7, each with a sufficient quorum to constitute a working group. They ranged from abstract ideas such as determining who speaks for nature (and how), to identifying the different governance needs at various scales of SAI testing.

The intended outputs of these working groups were open-ended, but most groups were ambitious. I decided to engage on policy-related discussions to leverage the learning from my master’s degree in public policy.

Our group started off as an amalgamation of ideas related to policy and geoengineering, but we narrowed it down to developing a template policy document to brief governments on geoengineering technologies and their impacts. As a starting point, we spent our time developing a document for the Government of Canada.

10 August

We spent most of our time today with our working groups, finishing up the final product (to the best possible extent!) and preparing a short presentation on what our group had been up to. There was a lot of energy to push through.

The two groups which had worked on our scenario were keen to discuss the diverse approaches we had adopted. While my team had gone for an aggressive approach focusing on the power equation, the other team adopted a more co-operative stance, choosing to accede to the demands of the responsible countries and establish a joint governance mechanism.

Some key takeaways were that other countries might have little leverage on unilateral/ multilateral deployment, owing to possible support from many countries impacted by climate change and also due to the lack of an appropriate counter-response mechanism, short of war.

Yet the development of a global governance mechanism would likely to be beneficial for all in the long run.

We ended the 5 short days of camaraderie and learning, with quick discussions on what the next Summer School sessions would look like (a lot like this one I hope!), and a night of music, fun and laughter to celebrate.

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