Memorandum submitted by Tim Kruger et
al (GEO 07a)
1. In this memorandum, we respond to some of
the oral evidence given to the Select Committee, with regard to
the role of the private sector in geoengineering.
2. During the oral evidence, a number of the
witnesses were asked their thoughts about the set of principles
laid out in our previous memorandum. This memorandum is in response
to some comments with regard to the role of the private sector
in geoengineering. Some witnesses interpreted the principle that
geoengineering should be regulated as a public good as a wholesale
rejection of the involvement of the private sector. This is not
our position. In this memorandum we lay out how it is important
to consider carefully the role of the private sector.
3. We would like to make a comment on the role
of the private sector in geoengineering research and deployment.
As we state in our submission:
"While the involvement of the private sector
in the delivery of a geoengineering technique should not be prohibited,
and may indeed be encouraged to ensure that deployment of a suitable
technique can be effected in a timely and efficient manner, regulation
of such techniques should be undertaken in the public interest
by the appropriate bodies at the state and/or international levels".
4. We would like to draw attention to the particular
issue of patents and other intellectual property rights in this
area. The granting of patents in this area could have serious
5. The ability to obtain patents on geoengineering
technique could create a culture of secrecy and may lead to the
concealment of negative results.This has been observed in the
pharmaceutical industry, where negative research results are deliberately
concealed. This is doubly damagingfirstly, the negative
consequences of a geoengineering technique could be far more wide-ranging
than from a drug trial, and secondly, the concealment of negative
results could lead to a public backlash against all geoengineering
research and research scientists. With respect to the latter,
the highly regarded House of Lords Science and Technology Committee
"Science and Society Report" of 2000 concluded that
openness and transparency are a fundamental precondition for maintaining
public trust and confidence in areas which may raise controversial
ethical or risk issues.
6. Patents could lead to the creation of powerful
vested interests in the field of geoengineering. Lobbying by these
vested interests could lead to undesirable technological lock-in.
7. The field could become blocked by a thicket
of patents which some patent-holders may use to extort a rent
on technologies which could be used to tackle climate change,
resulting in delays and needless expense. Such blocking patents
could be described as "socially useless".
8. The benefit of allowing the granting of patents
is that it may encourage investment in research and development.
But these benefits need to be weighed against the potential downsides.
9. An example of a field where there has been
considerable investment from both the public and private sectors
despite tight restrictions on patent rights is in the Human Genome
Project. It was recognised that it would not be in the public
good for a small group of organisations to own large parts of
our genetic code and a decision was taken that the genome sequence
could not be patented. Despite these restrictions investment in
the field remains high.
10. It should be noted that geoengineering is
a widely heterogeneous field and it is likely that the operation
of normal patent regulations in some areas (such as, for example,
biochar) may stimulate investment without leading to countervailing
problems. Nevertheless we would encourage regulators to explicitly
reserve the right to intervene in this area to encourage transparency
and to stymie the creation of powerful vested interests that may
operate against the public interest.
11. We have attached a copy of the recently
published Manchester Manifesto, which was written by, amongst
many others, Professor Sir John Sulston (Nobel Laureate 2002Physiology
or Medicine). It considers the question "Who owns science?"
and concludes that ownership rights pose a real danger to scientific
progress for the public good.
12. There is an opportunity as we start to research
and regulate geoengineering to ensure that we structure it in
such a way as to spare our successors from having to grapple with
powerful vested interests in the future. The question should be
asked: if geoengineering research does not qualify as a public
good, what on Earth does?
Professor Steve Rayner
University of Oxford
Professor Catherine Redgwell
University College London
Professor Julian Savulescu
University of Oxford
Professor Nick Pidgeon
Mr Tim Kruger
Oxford Geoengineering Institute