The Regulation of Geoengineering - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Alan Gadian (GEO 03)


  I am a scientist, who has specialised in the "Cloud Whitening Scheme" Geoengineering Scheme. The intention is to investigate a scheme that may provide a window of opportunity of ~ 50 years in which a longer term solution can be found to the rapidly warming Planet Earth.


  1.  The HoC S&T committee requested input in response to three specific questions. (Appendix 1 contains the remit specification). The "Carbon Dioxide Removal" (CDR) methods are not discussed, in this submission, as being of design to return the atmosphere to the status quo.

  2.  The comments below specifically refer to the geoengineering "Solar Radiation Management" (SRM) schemes, as referred to in the Royal Society Report, but could also be applied to other compensatory schemes. Three "Solar Radiation Management" (SRM) schemes referred to below are "Cloud Whitening", (Planet Earth,, 2009-winter, p 9-11, issn 1475-2605) and "Stratospheric Sulphur" and "Mirrors in Space" schemes (National Geographica, 2009, August, p24). All schemes are briefly discussed in the Institute of Physics Publication: "Geoengineering: Challenges and Impacts", October 2009, "Report on seminar in the House of Commons, 15 July 2009". This response only refers to the scientific content in my area of expertise. Two pdfs relating to the cloud whitening scheme for the "Planet Earth" and the IOP case.


  3.  There is a need to make a good scientific assessment of all the schemes being studied. The Royal Society Report (published 1/9/09) recommended £10 million a year for the next 10 years to assess the science behind the scheme. £3.5 million over three years has been suggested by EPSRC for a sandpit, but has not yet been arranged. Data from Arctic ice reductions, and methane releases suggests that we might have only ~ 10 years before it could be necessary to use geoengineering schemes to prevent serious climate catastrophe. Thus the funding of research activity is urgent.

    Recommendation 1 is that there should be urgent action to research into the science issues as well as discussion of governance issues, which currently seem to be taking precedence. There needs to be a significant programme of research immediately. Scientists who are involved with the research, and not just heads of Research Councils should be consulted about what is required: it can be argued the prolonged procedures of a peer review system is unsuitable for rapidly generation of new ideas.

Is there a need for international regulation of geoengineering and geoengineering research and if so, what international regulatory mechanisms need to be developed?

  4.  There is a need to define what is meant and referred to as geoengineering. In the context of this submission, I refer to it a "man made environmental change". As in recommendation 1, there is an urgent need to complete geoengineering research. Only if the results of the research are positive, should positive action geoengineering schemes be considered. Thus the current applicable question for research is: Is there a need for international regulation of geoengineering research? Submissions to the committee will say that some schemes are more dangerous than others. This needs to be determined. In the Royal Society Report, the figure of costs and dangers has been disputed by many scientists, and this needs further scientific work. The Cloud Whitening has been classified as "semi-dangerous" and this is itself incorrect, as very recent peer reviewed literature has demonstrated. Further, I do not believe that field trials or experiments in "Cloud Whitening" do not have a "HIGH need for international regulation".

    Recommendation 2 is that specific geoengineering schemes need to be in analysed, discussed and researched, before an informed analysis and context of the need for regulation can be applied for the assessment of each specific scheme.

  5.  For geoengineering research regulation, the scale of the "geoengineering" needs to be considered. Ship tracks caused by a ship moving across the sea, produce cloud streaks which reflect solar radiation, and therefore could be considered as a "SRM" Cloud Whitening experiment. The fact that thousands of ship tracks are produced daily, does not constitute research, or a significant issue. Thus geoengineering research activity has to be considered in relation to what is currently happening in everyday life. A further example of an experiment, could be sulphur aerosols being dropped from a helicopter, and measurements made of the increased reflectance of the sun (as measured by other aircraft), and as carried out in Russia. These releases of sulphur aerosols are far smaller than would be emitted by a small coal power station, and therefore represent a much smaller intervention than normal activity.

  6.  Taking the specific cases of "Cloud Whitening" and "Atmospheric Sulphur Aerosol" schemes, if they have only a local impact over an area of ~100km by ~100km, effects can be shown to be undetectable outside this region, have no impact on other nations or groups, and any perturbation experiment has a lifetime of less than one month, then little regulation is required. In such cases, international participation should be encouraged, and no commercial funding, other than charitable donations, should be permitted. Calibrated data should be made freely available as soon as possible after the experiment.

    Recommendation 3 is that where the nature of the geoengineering research is in a locality, of size and duration such that it is significantly smaller than other human emissions, is not the subject of any commercial or private gain, and has no impact on other regions outside the test zone, then there should be a registry and full open documentation and no international regulation is required.

  7.  For geoengineering research which occurs on larger scales (eg. Sulphurs aerosols in the stratosphere, with large residence times, large scale ocean fertilisation experiments) then international regulation is required.

  Recommendation 4 is that where the geoengineering research is on a regional scale, there needs to be regulation.

  8.  International bodies, the UN, (eg groups which developed the United Nations Outer Space Treaty, Environmental Modification Convention, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations Outer Space Treaty, United Nations Arctic and Antarctic Environmental treaty), the London Convention, the World Climate Research Programme, the WMO etc. should all be consulted for the development of regulatory framework for dealing with geoengineering.

    Recommendation 5 is that all relevant international bodies be consulted.

  9.  However, social acceptability should be examined as part of geoengineering . Recent applications to research councils for funding to examine this should be encouraged, not vetoed as has happened in the past.

How should international regulations be developed collaboratively?

  10.  As a scientist, I would prefer that international agencies should be paramount. I would express caution that some organisations, such as IPCC, should take a major role. Having been in conversation with scientists from smaller and less well developed countries, there is concern that the IPCC is influenced by the major "western" nations, and therefore more countries should be involved, as is the case in the UN. This is an international problem.

What UK regulatory mechanisms apply to geoengineering and geoengineering research and what changes will need to be made for purpose of regulating geoengineering?

  11.  As a scientist, I have no input here, other than that DEFRA, DECC, maritime agencies are the best ones to determine these.

Alan Gadian

NCAS, Environment, University of Leeds

December 2009

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