What do we mean by impartiality?
by Janos Pasztor / February 28, 2019
We are sometimes asked in C2G2 what, exactly, we mean when we claim to be impartial about geoengineering. This is an important issue for us, and we often debate it amongst ourselves.
Large-scale carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and solar radiation modification (SRM) are controversial propositions, inciting deep passions on all sides.
This can on occasion lead to people interpreting our work as leaning towards one outcome or the other, raising questions about our efforts as an honest broker.
Perhaps the most common comment is that even by talking about the governance of geoengineering, we might effectively be promoting geoengineering – and thereby inherently taking sides.
We think of governance in its broadest sense: not only rules and regulations, or incentives, but the process of getting there, including learning and deliberation amongst a broad cross section of society.
But it can be quite challenging to assert that catalysing the governance of a thing is different to calling for the thing itself, especially if that thing does not yet exist.
So, we wanted to share some of the principles and ideas that drive us in our work. This is not the final word – we are constantly learning more and we value constructive feedback – but hopefully this can give readers some sense of where we are coming from.
What does our ideal of impartiality on geoengineering governance look like?
While we may never achieve the full ideal of impartiality, we believe we can still strive for it, as long we remain open to learning and criticism. In simple terms, we set a direction of travel, and make our best, most honest effort to get there.
At the same time, while we wish to be impartial about geoengineering and ways to govern it, we do not seek to be impartial about everything related to climate science and policy. So here a few pointers:
What we don’t seek to be impartial about:
- We are not impartial about promoting the outcomes of major intergovernmental processes, such as the Paris Agreement, or the Sustainable Development Goals.
- We are not impartial about promoting the scientific findings of global processes such as reports by the IPCC or the UN Environment Programme. They are the best basis we have for a common global understanding of the science, which is essential to create fair and effective governance.
- We are not impartial about the need for governance of geoengineering, or the need for a broad cross-section of society to take part in this. We differentiate between our efforts to catalyse that governance, and the potential for such a discussion to catalyze or legitimate any deployment.
What we do strive to be impartial about:
- We seek to be impartial about whether or not (or to what extent) society should use large-scale carbon dioxide removal and/or solar radiation modification. Again, we reference the internationally agreed science (e.g., IPCC, UN Environment Programme, World Meteorological Organization) on these matters.
- We seek to be impartial about which particular CDR or SRM technologies and methods society should employ (or not), when, for what length of time, and at what scale.
- We seek to be impartial about specific governance frameworks, although not on the overarching need for governance, including at multiple levels, and that governance should be based on international accepted principles.
- We seek to be impartial about whether or not research should be undertaken into any particular technology or approach. At the same time, we do encourage learning to inform and improve decision-making, and so contend that if there is research, it needs to be governed.
What does this mean in practice?
The practical bottom line, for us, is to maintain impartiality in order to bring the widest possible range of voices to the governance debate. This demands, for example, that we include both proponents and critics of geoengineering in our work.
At the same time, our commitment to the internationally agreed scientific consensus means that we do not feel bound to include the views of people who distort or ignore scientific facts and rigour in their arguments, or who mischaracterize the work of others. We actively encourage discussions on the ethical and/or historical and socio-cultural perspectives related to governance particularly within the context of global agreements, including the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.
- When we give briefings, we do our best to invite a range of actors, from a variety of backgrounds, with different views;
- We aim to host a range of people with different views and backgrounds on our blog; (And to that end, please approach us if you would like to be featured.)
- We share information about relevant projects or publications, but do not endorse them;
- We invite others to establish governance frameworks, but we are not prescriptive about the specific outcomes of those governance frameworks;
- We invite others to learn more – and/or promote learning – about geoengineering and its governance, but we do not make specific recommendations as to what research is needed or by whom.
On a formal level, we have a conflict of interest policy. All members of the C2G2 team and the members of our Advisory Group have signed a declaration of potential conflict of interest, and the C2G2 staff report to the Carnegie Council on Ethics in International Affairs. That body is itself bound by US law as a 501(c)(3), which prohibits political campaigning.
But perhaps most importantly, we are accountable to all of you, as a community. Our credibility and effectiveness is inextricably linked to whether we are seen as impartial by actors on all sides of the debate.
To that end, we are always ready to listen to constructive criticism, and to reconsider our positions when necessary to advance our mission and priorities. Please do not hesitate to get in touch, or comment below, if you would like to explore this further.