Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-33)|
13 JANUARY 2010
Chairman: Could I say a very warm welcome
to our guests around the world and, indeed, thank you very much
indeed for joining us at what must seem an unearthly hour. It
is snowing here in London and I am sure you will tell us what
it is like around the world. We are very tight to timescale, and
I am going to ask each of you to introduce yourselves very, very
briefly so that we know that our feed is up and live, but first
I am going to introduce our Committee to you. I am Phil Willis,
the Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee here in the
House of Commons, and on my immediate right is?
Dr Iddon: Dr Brian Iddon, Member of Parliament
for Bolton South-East, Labour.
Graham Stringer: Graham Stringer, Member
of Parliament for Manchester, Blakely.
Mr Cawsey: Ian Cawsey, Member of Parliament
for Brigg and Goole.
Mr Boswell: Tim Boswell, Member of Parliament
Q1 Chairman: And on my immediate
left is Glenn McKee, the clerk. That is our panel this morning.
I wonder if I could ask John Virgoe if you could identify yourself,
John Virgoe: I am John Virgoe.
I am on the line here from Canberra, where we have been enjoying
Q2 Chairman: Professor Keith?
Professor Keith: David Keith,
University of Calgary, where it is around zero.
Q3 Chairman: What time in the morning
Professor Keith: One-thirty. No,
it must be two-thirty; sorry.
Q4 Chairman: Thank you very much
indeed. Dr Blackstock?
Dr Blackstock: Yes, is the audio
working at this point in time?
Q5 Chairman: It certainly is; yes.
Dr Blackstock: Wonderful. I am
Jason Blackstock from the International Institute for Applied
Systems Analysis and the Centre for International Governance Innovation.
I am in Boston right now and it is four-thirty in the morning
and about 0 Celsius as well.
Q6 Chairman: John Virgoe, I wonder
if I could start with you. It has been suggested that there is
a need for geoengineering intervention. First of all, do you think
that there is and do you agree that it needs global regulation?
John Virgoe: On the need, I think
it would be premature to make that judgment at this point. The
state of knowledge about geoengineering, both on the technical
side but also on the political, ethical and regulatory sides,
is simply not at a point where I think any sensible person would
be able to recommend that we should be implementing a geoengineering
technique at this point. I think, however, there is increasing
reason to think that we may be heading that way in the future.
I suppose it depends to some extent on your degree of optimism
about whether the world will actually get on top of global warming
through the mitigation methods and through international negotiations.
If we believe that we may be heading in that direction and that
in some years from now (and I would not like to put a figure on
it) we may be looking seriously at a geoengineering intervention,
I think it does make sense for us to be starting, at this point,
not only to research the science and the technology, but also
to think through some of these issues around the politics and
the regulation so that when we do get to the point, if we get
to that that point, where we want to go ahead with these sorts
of acts, we have thought about it and we are in a position to
take a mature, measured and informed decision.
Q7 Chairman: Dr Blackstock, if we
take John Virgoe's position as a sensible starting point, there
is a huge number of international conventions with the potential
to regulate geoengineering. Is there sufficient out there, or
do we need to establish new positions? Dr Blackstock, can you
Dr Blackstock: Yes, I can.
Q8 Chairman: I was just saying that
there is a huge number of international conventions with the potential
to regulate geoengineering. Is that so, or do we need new ones?
Dr Blackstock: I think this depends
in part on the types of geoengineering that you are talking about.
Geoengineering is not a monolithic subject. The differences between
carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management and even,
within carbon dioxide removal, the types that are engineered and,
therefore, can be done on a global scale versus the ecosystem
management, each of them requires different types of regulation,
different regulatory structures. I think that for the engineering
of carbon dioxide removal we do have methods in place that can
fit largely within the local and national regulatory structures,
but once you start getting into managing ecosystems or interventions
into ecosystems at a larger scale across borders, we start to
have more questions. CDR that is ecosystem-based, like ocean fertilisation,
has already gone to the Convention on Biological Diversity and
the London Convention and we have some regulatory mechanisms there.
For solar radiation management I think we really lack the regulatory
structure right now, and because solar radiation managementthe
sort of techniques of stratospheric aerosols, cloud whiteningare
the only category of techniques that could be used with a rapid
impact on the climate system if we were to intervene, I think
that we need to get these regulatory structures in place before
large scale field tests are implemented. Because even when you
start talking about field testing solar radiation management techniques,
you start running into the potential for transboundary impacts,
or at least a perception of transboundary impacts, and so international
mistrust, international concern of what another country will do
with that technology can come up very rapidly.
Q9 Chairman: Are you saying, Dr Blackstock,
that the Convention on Biological Diversity would be a good starting
point, or are you saying that that is sufficient?
Dr Blackstock: I am saying that
for the different techniques we need different systems. There
will not be (and I do not think we should think of there being)
one framework which is sufficient to regulate geoengineering as
a whole. If we differentiate the categories of geoengineering
into the two broad categories of carbon dioxide removal and solar
radiation management, I think those techniques that aim to remove
carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, we largely have the appropriate
regulatory mechanisms. There are some changes that could be made,
but they largely exist. For solar radiation management, on the
other hand, I believe we do not have the appropriate regulatory
mechanisms in place, and I do not believe we have even a forum
in which that discussion has begun to occur. I think we need more
discussion at the international level of what type of regulatory
mechanisms are needed, and that discussion should begin soon.
Q10 Chairman: Mr Virgoe, you disagree
with that? You feel that we need a single regulatory body. I just
wonder if you would let our Committee know how you think that
that could work.
John Virgoe: In fact, I do not
disagree with that; I agree with almost everything that Dr Blackstock
said at that point. I certainly agree that when we are talking
about CO2 removal, the aspiration, at least, must be
to make this part of a broader greenhouse gas management regulatory
structure; that once we have addressed the issues around measurability,
verification, the efficiency of some of these methods, then, ideally,
we will be looking to see these methods implemented as part of
a portfolio, if the price makes it sensible to do it that way.
So that the countries faced with emissions reduction targets would
have the option, and it would be a market-driven process, to what
extent they wished to meet those. I agree with him entirely. We
do not have the structures in place which would allow us to take
the decisions and to regulate that process. The one area that
I would differ slightly with him on that is I would certainly
agree that we need to start the conversations around these issues
as soon as possible, but that does not mean that we should necessarily
be jumping straight into an international negotiation. The state
of knowledge around these techniques and the possible unintended
consequences is such that I just do not think we have enough knowledge
to get into that sort of international negotiation and that actually
getting into that international negotiation could lead us to some
unwanted consequences, but I certainly think that we need to start
the discussion and we need to start the discussion, in particular,
around how we are going to manage the process of researching these
Q11 Chairman: Professor Keith, we
have just had a rather disappointing Copenhagen summit with, arguably,
science coalescing around a clear understanding that the planet
is warming up and that we need to take very, very drastic action.
We have still failed to be able to get the sorts of compensation
agreements to support countries that require a great deal of support
in order to put in carbon mitigation measures. How do you feel?
Do you feel that there would need to be significant compensation
for geoengineering which might be deployed by one nation but have
quite a significant effect on another? Do you think it is possible
to work that out?
Professor Keith: I cannot see
the video. Can you hear me?
Q12 Chairman: We can hear you, so
please carry on. We can see you now as well.
Professor Keith: Again, talking
about geoengineering in general is almost meaningless, because
there are completely different things in that project. I think
the question really refers to solar radiation management, and
that is governance is central at the point where we lock it, and
the reason is that it is so cheap that the challenge for the international
system will be to restrain unilateral action. It is precisely
the opposite, or the converse, of the kind of challenge we face
to reducing CO2 emissions, but the challenge is to
incentive as a collective act. I think we will need methods to
do that and, indeed, those may be some of the most challenging
developments, some of the most challenging the international community
has ever faced. I do not think it makes sense to begin now to
develop the full mechanisms for managing full-scale deployment,
because I think we simply do not know enough. I agree with what
John Virgoe has said. The crucial thing now is to think about
how to start doing this from the bottom up through the management
of a research programme in an international and transparent way.
From the bottom up does not mean just that the scientists decidethat
is certainly not the right answerbut it means, I think,
that it would be premature to start a full UN scale EU Court treaty
process, because it is simply not clear yet what the capacities
are and states, individuals, have not had long enough to consider
seriously what the trade-offs are.
Q13 Chairman: Very briefly, before
I pass you on to Dr Iddon, it has certainly come to my attention
that there is a real worry that the military use of geoengineering
might become an attractive proposition for some countries. Is
that something that worries you?
Professor Keith: Yes.
John Virgoe: I understand the
concern. I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that such
action would actually be prohibited by the 1977 ENMOD Convention,
which does outlaw the hostile or military use of environmental
modification techniques. That does not mean, however, that the
development of these sorts of techniques would not give rise to
concerns, and that is certainly the case if militaries or, indeed,
powerful governments were seen to be involved in developing some
of these techniques. If we decide to move ahead with researching
and possibly deploying these sorts of techniques, I think one
of the big challenges for the world will be how do you actually
deal with those sort of concerns? As I say, I think the legal
position is that this would not be allowed under the Convention,
but that does not mean there would not be concerns about it.
Q14 Chairman: Professor Keith.
Professor Keith: I would echo
Mr Virgoe's comments on this. Let us try getting a scenario on
the table. If a very small state, right now, decided to go out
and deploy geoengineering with no prior consultation and with
no adequate margin to go on, then, whether or not we had some
prearranged international regime, it is pretty clear that the
great powers would stop that small state. On the other hand, if
a large stateand that does not necessarily mean a rich
first-world countrybegan a serious ten-year programme of
geoengineering research, subscale testing, and if that programme
has international transparency in the form of an advisory committee
that had some of the world's best scientists, and then that state
moved, after, say, a decade, to say, "We are going to begin
slowly and incrementally subscale deployment because we feel it
will protect our world's interests", it would be extremely
hard to stop. That state would effectively seize the initiative,
especially if it was a nuclear power state. The reality here is
that there are limits to what we can do in international law because,
in the end, this gets to the core national interest. That is not
to say we should not try, because, I think, in the end, the stability
of the world is going to depend on this over time, but I would
use this example to give you a sense of just how valuable it will
be. Let us say China decided to do some modification that they
think will improve their monsoon but make India's monsoon worse:
that will not be directly, as John says, prohibited by an ENMOD
treaty, but there is no question that will have a military response
on all sides.
Dr Blackstock: I would build on
Professor Keith's statement quickly and say that those two scenarios
that he painted are the ends of the spectrum of possibilities,
but as geoengineering research is developing, particularly on
solar radiation management, somewhere in the middle ground seems
more likely at this stage, where powerful nations begin research
programmes on geoengineering and other states' perceptions of
how transparent that is. For example, the EU, the UK and the US
are all having these conversations about geoengineering; developing
countries are not yet present. We need to consider the knock-on
consequences of that middle ground perception that powerful countries
are beginning to develop these technologies and may be pursuing
not necessarily militaristic interests, but simply national climatic
interests by developing these technologies. For example, on the
next attempt at Copenhagen, the next attempt to get mitigation
discussions going, there will be these arguments. I would agree
with Mr Virgoe, we are not ready for international negotiations,
but, I think, particularly by countries that are now starting
serious geoengineering research, there needs to be an attempt
to engage a broader dialogue with those countries which would
otherwise feel marginalised on these subjects.
Q15 Mr Boswell: My specific question
was about the regulation of these processes and what might be
termed the international validation of them. It would seem to
me (and this prompted my asking to intervene) that the UN Charter
and the principle of self-defence, at one level, could actually
be invoked by a nation state who wanted to do this by saying,
"It is essential we do this in order to protect ourselves."
Perhaps you would like to comment on that. Secondly, there is
some analogy with the development of nuclear programmes, for example,
in states which are not at the moment nuclear weapon states. There
may be some suggestion that they are able to shelter under civilian
regimes in order to develop what are essentially nuclear military
programmes. Do you have any comments on those two?
Professor Keith: Let me pick up
on the connection of nuclear weapons and point out that we do
not just succeed on an international basis by formal treaties.
Normal behaviour is very important, even if they are not formally
within a treaty. So the norm that said no state should have that
first use of nuclear weapons, no first use for them, had a profound
role in the Cold War and yet it was not the core of any treaty.
I think what we need to develop here are both norms and treaties
and we should not look at necessarily getting through a written
Chairman: I am going to leave that there
and bring in Dr Brian Iddon.
Q16 Dr Iddon: Good morning, gentlemen.
Are we quite clear about the width of geoengineering? What I mean
by that is that weather-changing techniques such as cloud seeding
might be considered to be geoengineering. Do you encompass those
techniques within your definition? Could we start with John Virgoe
John Virgoe: I certainly would
not encompass that. One of the criteria for me for geoengineering
is that the effect needs to be at a global level, and cloud seeding
is a weather modification technique. We should not get hung up,
though, on the precise definition of geoengineering for a couple
of reasons. One is that the term is a very scary term and I think
it does inhibit sensible debate around these techniques. The second
is that the term has come to encompass at least two quite different
things which are both technically different. I am talking about
techniques for solar radiation management on the one hand and
for taking CO2 or other greenhouse gases out of the
atmosphere on the other. They are quite different technically
but also in terms of their non-technological implications. Currently
I find it more helpful to think in terms of unconventional or
complementary techniques and then to look at them one by one.
I think the category of geoengineering is possibly starting to
no longer be a particularly helpful one.
Q17 Dr Iddon: Professor Keith, do
you agree or disagree with John Virgoe?
Professor Keith: I strongly agree.
I think all three of us have said that in different ways. Let
us try and help this by being specific. If biochar is geoengineering,
it certainly does not bring out the kinds of direct international
security concerns that are brought out by the capacity to do stratosphere
solar radiation management, and the reason is all about leverage
and money. The fact is that with the right technology it may be
cheap enough, through engineering the stratosphere, that literally
individual human beings may have the wealth necessary to introduce
an ice age. I say that to be deliberately provocative, but there
is evidence that is in fact correct, and that enormous leveragethe
concept being so cheapmeans that the threat of unilateral
action is real and the impacts could be very substantial. There
is no comparable issue with, say, biochar, and for that reason
the sort of regulation management we need is completely different.
Q18 Dr Iddon: Dr Blackstock, do you
have any comment?
Dr Blackstock: I would echo the
comments that were just made and build on them, just saying that
it is the transboundary impacts, the impacts that go beyond the
boundary of one country, that are really going to drive the international
regulatory frameworks that we need to develop, and so for a working
definition of geoengineering there is obviously the question of
intentional intervention requirements. As David Keith just raised,
biochar does have the intent of keeping the global atmospheric
concentrations of CO2 down, but the near-term transboundary
impacts are minimal. When we think of developing regulatory structures
for what we class as geoengineering, our primary concern should
be about how large is the transboundary impact and how soon will
that transboundary impact manifest? This is what focuses a lot
of the conversation that you heard on solar radiation management,
the fact that that can impact the climate system in the near-term,
whereas the CDR techniques, the carbon dioxide removal techniques,
have a much longer time lag behind them. Just to echo the last
question that was asked about nuclear technology and build-upProfessor
Keith's pointas David mentioned a couple of times now,
solar radiation management technologies appear relatively cheap,
which also means relatively technically simplistic. Therefore,
the analogy to nuclear technologies becomes much more challenging,
because most of the technologies required to actually deploy solar
radiation management are things that are available to numerous
countries already. These are not technologies that require huge
technological progress from where existing technologies are at.
The idea that we can potentially regulate and control the technology
underlying solar radiation management, like we do, or attempt
to do, with nuclear technologies, is not a good analogy for this.
The technology is going to proliferate and be accessible to a
large number of individuals or countries and, therefore, we have
to look at controlling behaviours in this case, not just access
Q19 Dr Iddon: My second question
is about risk. Should we be categorising geoengineering techniques
as low risk, medium risk and high risk? If you agree with that,
should there be separate regulatory regimes for each risk area?
Could I start with Dr Blackstock, please.
Dr Blackstock: Simply having three
categories of low, medium and high risk, as all three of us have
already echoed, there are slightly different things that you would
want to lump into categories, that you would want to define the
technologies according to, and I think what you have heard echoed
here already is an attempt to classify these things in precisely
that way. The high risk technologies in this case that we have
been discussing, high risk geoengineering methods, are those of
solar radiation management because of the cheap and easy technology
for implementation, the near-term impact it can have and, therefore,
the potential for unilateral action. That creates a high risk
category that does require a different type of regulatory framework
than, for example, is necessary for biochar or the other carbon
dioxide removal techniques, that is a useful framework of low
key and higher risk, but understanding why those classifications
of higher risk versus lower risk are made will be a very important
part of any regulatory framework. That echoes Mr Virgoe's comment
that we need a lot more research to understand the science underlying
these techniques before going for full-scale negotiations and
real international regulation.
Q20 Dr Iddon: Professor Keith, do
Professor Keith: Yes, generally
I agree with what Dr Blackstock has said. I think that categorising
things like the amount of leverage might be more useful than boundaries.
There are things like that, low leverage, where it is implausible
for a small amount of money or a small stated effective load and
may have high or low risk, and those things do not need a kind
of international governance that they will eventually need for
these high leverage technologies like solar radiation management.
I think actually that high, low, medium risk categorisation is
not a particularly useful way to think about overall governance.
We need to think about the specific, very different timescale
and leverage differences.
Q21 Dr Iddon: John Virgoe, finally?
John Virgoe: I would agree with
both of those comments and just observe that I think we are talking
about a number of different sorts of risk here, and it is going
to be important to pick these apart. There are environmental risks,
risks of things going wrong or risks of unintended side effects.
There are also political risks, and we have touched on some of
these already, and I think there are a number of other potential
political risks, risks to the international system, to multilateral
or bilateral relations. It is something that particularly concerns
me. There is clearly a risk that the techniques do not work and
there are also risks around things like legal issues and liability.
I think there is a whole range of different risks, and we probably
need quite a sophisticated framework for assessing those, but
ultimately, you are right, we will be in the business of balancing
risks and balancing them against the risk of runaway climate change
Dr Iddon: Thank you, gentlemen.
Q22 Mr Boswell: I will start with
Mr Virgoe, if I may. In your paper, which is very helpful, you
suggested developing guidelines that would apply to the whole
area of research into geoengineering. My first question is: who
should be formulating these? Should this be individual governments,
international organisations or, possibly, some kind of consortia
of academics or NGOs that does it?
John Virgoe: I think that is an
extremely interesting question. I do think that the development
of, I suppose, what might more appropriately be called norms or
principles is the first task and is a particularly urgent task
given the urgent need to restrain what we might call irresponsible
entrepreneurial activity in this field. We need to develop these
norms and we need to socialise them among the community of nations,
the community of scientists and other stakeholders. How do we
do that? As I suggested earlier, I do not see turning, in the
early instance, to the international multilateral process, negotiating
it a treaty, as the right way to go in this. I think the state
of international understanding and also the knowledge base is
currently so weak that you could get outcomes that would not be
the right one. I think it is very possible to imagine, if this
is put on the table in some sort of UN forum, you could end up
with a decision, basically, to make geoengineering a taboo, to
outlaw it, and that would be a mistake, for a couple of reasons.
One is that it may be that we actually need to be doing this research
and that, some decades down the line, we will be very sorry if
we have not started thinking through these techniques. The second
is that I think there are a lot of actors out there, as we have
all already said several times, with the capacity to research
and implement these techniques. Some of them may not feel bound
by that sort of international decision, some of them may not be
as responsible, and it would be very unfortunate if what geoengineering
research was happening was going on under the radar screen, if
you like. What we need is an open process which builds on some
of the principles that are already out there around similar issues;
for example, principles developed to deal with long-range air
pollution or weather modification: principles around openness,
transparency and research, notifying a neighbouring country or
countries which might be affected. We probably develop these through
maybe a slightly messier process than an international negotiation.
Individual countries will have a role; communities of scientists
will certainly have a role. I think if you look at some analogues,
for example, around genetic engineering, fusion physics or, indeed,
carbon capture and storage, to come a bit closer to home, you
can see examples where research norms and principles have been
developed almost from the bottom up in that way involving groups
of scientists, other stakeholders and interested countries.
Q23 Mr Boswell: That is very helpful.
Would the other two, Professor Keith or Dr Blackstock, like to
Professor Keith: Yes. I think
there is a role for bottom-up generation of norms that has to
start most of all with just transparency alone. I think there
are parts of the international scientific community, such as the
national academies and bodies that link the national academies,
such as the InterAcademy Council, that can play an important role
here. That is not to say that this should just be the domain of
scientists, because it should not. It is vital that we find a
way to get a larger set of witnesses in here, not have a reality
or perception that the scientific community alone are deciding
what to do purely based on research. One of the wonderful things
about the global scientific community has been its ability to
operate internationally and have some level of transparency even
in the middle of the Cold War, and I think that building on that
is a certain key way to start but it needs to be done in many
places, and we need to have different efforts to develop these
norms of behaviour going on, whilst I think it would be a mistake
to go for a single, unified system too early.
Dr Blackstock: Could I just add
one thing on top of what my colleagues have said, which is that
when speaking about research on low scales where the research
itself has no transboundary impactfor example developing
the deployment technologies, laboratory research, computational
modellingfor that the framework of developing norms within
the scientific community as a bottom-up process, I think, is very
political and will work well. I am more sceptical, however, when
we start talking about field tests, particularly what Professor
Keith has been referring to as high leverage geoengineering technologies,
which are specifically the solar radiation management type. When
we start talking about field tests, it is a question of
Q24 Mr Boswell: I interrupt you.
Typically crossing national boundaries at that level. The field
test would be typical.
Dr Blackstock: Yes, at some scale
you can do what you refer to as subscale field tests, which are
tests of such a small scale that they do not have transboundary
impact, but defining where that boundary is between subscale and
actually having transboundary impactand this goes a little
bit to what Mr Virgoe has just saidthere are two types
of risk. There is the actual technical risk, the environmental
risk, but then there is the political risk in just the perception.
One can conduct what is nominally a subscale test, but the political
perceptions of your neighbours can be different to that, and so
when talking about the types of research that begin to get into
actual environmental testing of these technologies, I think we
have to be more cautious about what we are seeing, based on norms
alone, prior to a political agreement. We saw an example of this
in this last year with the ocean fertilisation experiment, the
Lohafex example, that was the Indo-German collaboration that ran
it, and the political controversy that emerged surrounding that.
Nominally that test would have had very subscale impacts in terms
of the ecosystems and certainly in terms of transboundary, yet
the political controversy agreed because of the perceptions and
the fact that the Convention on Biological Diversity and the London
Convention had already been discussing these issues. When you
start doing field tests, you start raising more political issues.
I think the consideration of the norms is partly necessary but
not sufficient to address the sort of political issues that will
Q25 Mr Boswell: The second question
is really for all of you. By prefacing it, I think I would say
that it sounds to me as if the words "norms", "guidelines"
and "principles" are pretty well interchangeable, and
you might like to comment on that, but a group of leading academics
have suggested five key principlesthat is the word they
usefor guiding research. Broadly, first of all, that geoengineering
be regulated as a public good; secondly, the importance of public
participation in decision-making; thirdly, disclosure of geoengineering
research and open publication of results; fourthly, the independent
assessment of impacts; and, fifthly, governance before deployment.
I think that last one implies that you start the guidelines and
you work on the governance at the stage where you need to perhaps
develop specific research projects. They sound pretty good to
me at first sight, but are they practicable as a basis for at
least starting to consider the acceptability of research? Would
Dr Virgoe like to start on that, or whoever?
John Virgoe: I am happy to go
first, but I should say I am not a doctor.
Q26 Mr Boswell: I am sorry.
John Virgoe: On the five key principles,
I also agree that they sound pretty good at first sight, or at
least three of them do. I would absolutely agree with the principle
of open publication and disclosure of research. I think this is
absolutely key. The surest way to excite international suspicion
about what you are doing is not to be open about it, and that
applies whether you are a community of scientists or whether you
are government, of course. Starting with governance first, independent
assessment of impacts sounds like a good idea to me as well. The
two that I have some question marks over are the first two, however.
Implementation in the public good. Yes, it is motherhood and apple
pie, but I think when you delve below that you have to ask: who
is the public in this case? The global public. We are talking
about interventions which will affect the planet as a whole, and
there are number of publics out there. There are some publics
out there who are suffering very badly, or will be suffering very
badly, from the effects of climate change. There are some populations
out there who may have seen some benefit from climate change and,
therefore, not be very happy to see climate change being put into
reverse gear, if we were ever able to achieve that. The impact
of some of these techniques is likely to be heavily differentiated.
It is not necessarily the case that we will simply be able to
slow climate change or put it into reverse at the same rate across
the world. You may find some areas were continuing to warm, other
areas cooling faster and, of course, unintentional side effects.
I think once you peer below the surface of the public good, it
becomes quite hard to define it and you get into some difficult
ethical territory. As far as public participation is concerned,
again it sounds good, but I find it hard to imagine quite what
that means at the global level. How do you actually bring about
public participation at the global level and how do you ensure
that certain parts of the public, or the public in certain countries,
do not have privileged access compared with other countries, publics
or other parts of the global public?
Q27 Chairman: Could I ask you to
be as brief as you can, because I am desperately trying to get
in another set of questions before we run out of our link. Can
I ask you to be very brief in your answers, please. Dr Keith?
Professor Keith: I want to return
to a previous conversation, because I think it got on to the key
point where there is a little disagreement probably between us.
Dr Blackstock was suggesting that we need to have political agreement
before we do any subscale testing. I would submit that that is
problematic. For one thing, the Russians are already doing subscale
testing. For another thing, it has recently become clear that,
despite all the talk about stratospheric geoengineering, the main
method people talk about basically does not work. That is, if
you put sulphur in the stratosphere the way we have been assuming,
it does not do what we thought. You could do tests on this. These
would have no detectable climate effect, but they would be subscale
tests, and if we want to actually understand whether this technology
works or it does not, we need to do those tests relatively soon.
If we say we are not going to allow them until we have a political
agreement, essentially that gives a veto to any power that does
not want to see that. I think we have to really think hard about
whether that would be an appropriate strategy or whether the default
outcome of that would be that there was no serious progress in
our standard of understanding.
Dr Blackstock: I would quickly
respond to Professor Keith's point and say I agree with most of
what he has just said. The issue that I am trying to raise is
the question of how the politics play out. As he pointed out,
Russia has begun doing subscale field tests, and they are extremely
subscale, at a point where there will clearly be no transboundary
impact. While I would agree that we want to progress our scienceand
we will need to do some of this subscale testing to understand
the feasibility of some of these technologieswe want some
international mechanism, some mechanism of legitimacy, for defining
what subscale actually means to begin with, and then, before we
start pushing the boundaries of what questionability of subscale,
that is, I believe, where we really need to have, not just scientific,
but political agreement. As Professor Keith raised before, the
international grouping of national academies could be the right
body for being able to make a declared statement of a subscale
test being actually subscale, but there will be cases where the
politics will overrun that and individual scientists, and particularly
nation states supportive of subscale testing, need to be very
aware of the political issues it can raise and be proactive. In
responding directly to this last question, norms, guidelines and
principles are all, I feel, interchangeable words, but what I
think needs to be considered are commitments. There are some debaters
that have operationalised these principles, but I think that nation
states who are now starting to fund research, particularly if
it goes to funding subscale experimentation, we need to ask what
preventive commitments, what precautionary commitments nation
states need to make about the sort of research and transparency
that they are going to want to commit to up front in order to
avoid exacerbating all the mistrust that already exists within
the international climate arena.
Q28 Mr Cawsey: Mr Virgoe, in your
written submission to us, you make the point that it would be
necessary to be cautious in the way international debate on geoengineering
is initiated. Indeed, you went further to say it may well be banned
in line with the precautionary principle if we do not. Why do
you think this might happen? Should we prevent it and, indeed,
John Virgoe: I think we can try
to prevent it by being careful in the way that we raise the issue.
To take a very crude example, if you were to take a proposal around
geoengineering straight to the floor of the United Nations, in
whatever format you liked, you have to think about the politics
of how countries would respond to that. At the moment the state
of knowledge around geoengineering, the state of understanding,
is not great. I think a number of countries will be very alarmed
by that proposal. A number of countries might see it as an attempt
by the developed nations to escape from having to make cuts in
their greenhouse gas emissions; others might be very excited to
hear about this potential solution to climate change. I think
the consequences of that sort of unprepared debate in that sort
of format would be very unpredictable, but you might get a decision
of one extreme or the other, either to ban geoengineering or to
rush ahead with it when we are really not at the point where we
can say that this is at all a sensible road to be going down.
That is why I am arguing for a much more cautious and bottom-up
approach to putting this on the international agenda.
Q29 Mr Cawsey: The UK's Natural Environment
Research Council has launched a public consultation on geoengineering
and it has asked for comments on two topics: what are your thoughts
on the hopes and concerns about the potential use of geoengineering
technology and what questions people should be asked about the
future of geoengineering research? Is that going too far too quickly,
or is that sensible? Do you support that consultation and what
issues and options should be considered? I will start with Mr
Virgoe, but I would be interested in what other witnesses have
to say as well.
John Virgoe: I thought that was
a very interesting initiative and seems to me to be a sensible
way of starting to start debate.
Q30 Mr Cawsey: Professor Keith?
Professor Keith: For other consultations
to really work, it requires more than just having an open door
for the public to pour comments. I think that is a necessity but
it is really not sufficient. Good public consultation requires
help to give members of the public the tools to ask scientists
what is going on and understanding the technical facts, and it
typically is more effective if a small group of representatives
of the public get to debate and work issues out for themselves
and then report. There are various methods of this kind of symmetrical
democracy that can work, and I think that pure kind of classic
consultation patterns may not be all that helpful.
Dr Blackstock: I agree. I would
echo that statement from Professor Keith that a more active educational
role or involvement in education about these ideas is essential.
I would just build back up to something that Mr Virgoe raised
in his framing of how we could go wrong by rushing forward in
the international community. This programme of starting communications
within the UK is a good start, but because of the truly international
scope of these geoengineering technologies that we are talking
about, we have to ask ourselves who are going to be some of the
most sensitive communities within the international sphere who
we definitely need to take a proactive role engaging in the conversation
early. I can think particularly about countries who already have
populations marginalised in terms of climate change or are on
the edge of suffering from climate change impacts, because those
marginalised populations are likely to be the ones most sensitive
to geoengineering experiments and a high level of solar radiation
management experiments and particularly implementation. There
is that risk that without directive public engagement, an attempt
to reach out and provide the information proactively and indeed
in a conversation, that we end up with them inevitably being surprised
later on by rapid climate change impacts for these technologies
which can lead to the unilateral and rash actions that we have
been trying to steer that by doing informed research and responsible
research we can hopefully avoid, but that requires international
public consultation, not just domestic.
Q31 Mr Cawsey: I was going to go
on about the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
undertaking workshops and sandpit events and ask if you thought
other countries should do the same or whether it should be internationally
focused, but you are clearly saying you think this should be an
international endeavour, not just done by individual states?
Dr Blackstock: That would be my
opinion on this, yes.
Q32 Mr Cawsey: Mr Virgoe?
John Virgoe: Certainly I agree
with all of that. I think you have to look at the political structures
in some of the countries that I think we are referring to and
ask yourself whether going straight to public consultation nationally
would actually make sense, but the broad principle that we have
to avoid anybody, any country, certainly any powerful country,
feeling either threatened, or suspicious, or surprised by any
action or discussions we may be having in this area: I absolutely
agree with that principle.
Q33 Chairman: I will have to call
this session to a halt. I am sorry, Dr Keith, not to bring you
in there. Could I thank you all very much indeed for joining us
on what is the beginning of a journey. It is a piece of work we
are doing jointly with the US Congress Science and Technology
Committee, but we thank you very much indeed, Dr Blackstock, Professor
Keith and John Virgoe, for your help in answering our questions
this morning. We wish you either a good night or a good morning.
Thank you very much indeed.
John Virgoe: Thank you.