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The Research

Genesis and development of the Geoengineering Research Governance Project

Due to concerns about potential environmental, social and political effects of geoengineering technologies, there is a need for effective oversight on geoengineering research and experimentation. The Royal Society, in its influential 2009 report on geoengineering, recommended the development of ‘a code of practice for geoengineering research’ that would ‘provide recommendations to the international scientific community for a voluntary research governance framework’ and ‘the establishment of a de minimis standard for regulation of research.'1

In response, legal scholars Anna-Maria Hubert and David Reichwein developed a Draft Code of Conduct for Responsible Scientific Research involving Geoengineering with accompanying legal commentaries to examine elements for a governance framework for research activities. The working paper was jointly published by the Institute of Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS-Potsdam) and the University of Oxford's Institute for Science Innovation and Society (InSIS) in May 2015. Focusing on the near-term prospect of research conducted in the open environment, the Code builds on salient legal concepts, principles and procedures relevant to geoengineering to set out principles rooted in international law for best practices for geoengineering research and development. 

1. The Royal Society Report on Geoengineering (n 2) 61. See further in that Report, 51: ‘An internationally agreed (but initially voluntary) code of conduct and system for approval for geoengineering research would be highly desirable. This should include provisions for appropriate environmental monitoring and reporting, depending on the magnitude and spatial scale of the experiments. […] The Code of Practice could follow the general principles provided by the London Convention […] and require the characterisation of the what, where and how of the intervention, an assessment of potential effects, appropriate monitoring, and an assessment of the likelihood of achieving the desired climate impact. Only experiments with effects that would in aggregate exceed some agreed minimum (de minimis) level would need to be subject to such regulation. The appropriate level would need to be decided collectively.’

The project has four main objectives. It first seeks to revise the Code of Conduct by incorporating suggestions from stakeholders working in areas related to governance and geoengineering. Through this process, the project aims to further understanding of the governance and regulation of scientific research and emerging technologies at the international level. The revised Code of Conduct can serve as a a text that States and other actors can draw upon to develop regulatory and governance frameworks for geoengineering research. Finally, GRGP will also help advance the development of participatory, interdisciplinary methods for conducting legal research.

In order to achieve these aims, the project includes the following components:

Expert peer review of the Code of Conduct by legal scholars

A range of legal scholars with expertise in areas including international, environmental and human rights law will be invited to peer review the Code of Conduct. This will ensure the final document represents a robust text that includes all salient legal concepts, principles and procedures relevant to geoengineering research.

Open online call for comments on the Code of Conduct

An open online call for comments on the Code of Conduct will elicit feedback and input from all interested experts, stakeholders and members of the public. This process aims to ensure transparency and broad participation in the revision of the text.

Interviewing expert stakeholders

A range of expert stakeholders will be interviewed on the potential effectiveness and need for a Code of Conduct for geoengineering research. Drawing on the idea that governance emerges within a specific discursive context, these interviews aim to help develop a more appropriate governance mechanism by understanding the context into which the draft Code is being introduced.

Stakeholder workshop

A stakeholder workshop will be organized and hosted at All Souls College at the University of Oxford to test the application of Code of Conduct under different fact-based scenarios. The aim of the workshop is to engage a wide range of global participants to provide practical feedback on the Code and to “road test” the governance framework under different research scenarios.