End the Deadlock on Governance of Geoengineering Research

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Science  15 Mar 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6125, pp. 1278-1279
DOI: 10.1126/science.1232527

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Proposals for research on geoengineering methods to offset greenhouse-gas–driven climate change have attracted controversy (16). Multiple methods have been proposed (7), but attention and controversy have centered on methods to reduce incoming sunlight—for example, spreading reflective aerosols in the stratosphere or spraying condensation nuclei to increase low ocean clouds (1, 2). Such high-leverage interventions offer the dual prospect of large benefits and harms. They may reduce climate-change risks faster than any other response. Yet they may also cause environmental harm or worsen policy failures—for example, undermining emissions cuts or triggering international conflict. Research is needed to develop capabilities and assess effectiveness and risks (field research as well as model and laboratory studies), but geoengineering requires competent, prudent, and legitimate governance (1, 2, 8). We propose specific steps to advance progress on research governance.