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Anticipatory Governance of Climate Engineering

Summary and Keywords

“Anticipatory governance” has gained recognition as an approach dedicated to shaping research and development early on, that is, long before technological applications become available or societal impacts visible. It combines future-oriented technology assessment, interdisciplinary knowledge integration, and public engagement. This article places debates about the anticipatory governance of climate engineering (CE) into the context of earlier efforts to render the governance of science, emerging technologies, and society more forward-looking, inclusive, and deliberative. While each field of science and technology raises specific governance challenges—which may also differ across time and space—climate engineering seems rather unique because it relates to what many consider the most significant global challenge: climate change.

The article discusses how and why CE has become subject to change in the aftermath of the Paris Agreement of 2015, leading to a more open and more fragmented situation. In the beginning, CE served as an umbrella term covering a broad range of approaches which differ in terms of risks, opportunities, and uncertainties. After Paris, carbon dioxide removal has been normalized as an approach that expands mitigation options and, thus, should no longer be attributed to CE, while solar radiation management has remained marginalized as a CE approach. The 1.5 °C special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is indicative for this shift.

The governance of CE unfolds in a context where the assessment of climate change and its impacts provides the context for assessing the potentials and limitations of CE. Since one cannot clearly predict the future as it is nonlinear and multiple anticipation may mark a promising way of thinking about future realities in the contemporary. Due to its indeterminacy the future may also become subject to “politics of anticipation.” As uncertainty underlies not only ways of thinking the future but also ways of acting upon it, anticipatory governance may provide valuable guidance on how to approach challenging presents and futures in a reflexive way. In consequence, anticipatory governance is not only aware of risks, uncertainties, and forms of ignorance but is also ready to adjust and realign positions, following the changing knowledge and preferences in the worlds of science, policymaking and politics, or civil society.

This article will discuss notions of anticipatory governance as developed in various institutional contexts concerned with assessing, funding, regulating, or conducting research and innovation. It will explore how notions of anticipatory governance have been transferred to the field of CE, in attempts at either shaping the course of CE-related research and innovation or at critically observing various CE-related governance endeavors by evaluating their capacities in anticipatorily governing research and technology development. By working in a double epistemic status, “anticipatory governance” exhibits useful characteristics in both practical and analytical ways. Considering the particular significance of climate change, approaches to anticipatory governance of CE need to be scaled up and reframed, from guiding research and innovation to meeting a global challenge, from creating capable ensembles in research and innovation to facilitating societal transformation toward carbon neutrality.

Keywords: anticipatory governance, climate engineering, geoengineering, technology assessment, knowledge integration, public engagement, reflexivity, responsibility, science-policy interface


Climate engineering (CE)—also referred to as geoengineering or climate geoengineering—has emerged as a set of diverging technological approaches to large-scale intervention into the climate system aimed at limiting global warming. As an overarching field, CE is characterized by fundamental differences: first and foremost differences between methods to block incoming sunlight (solar radiation management, SRM) and methods to sequester greenhouse gases from the ambient air (greenhouse gas or carbon dioxide removal, GGR, here: CDR); further differences within these types include launching space-based mirrors, increasing the albedo of surfaces (be it of clouds or roofs), injecting sulfur particles into the atmosphere, or changing land use through afforestation. From the outset, CE has been subject to intense controversy for two major reasons:

  • - Proponents presented CE as a third option to climate policy, which critics interpreted as a disregard of the need for further mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (this argument has also been framed as “moral hazard,” that is, an at least potential neglect of mitigation requirements).

  • - Considering the complexities of climate change, it was not only critics of CE who considered deliberate interventions into the climate system carried manifold risks and uncertainties, for example, with regard to the predictability and controllability of effects and side effects not only in physical but also political terms.

The overall issue at stake is still which policy or policies one should pursue regarding global warming and climate change, that is, problems that have resulted as unintended consequences from fossil-based industrialization across the globe. A key question concerning CE is how to govern research on, and possibly development of, CE—supposing one does not generally exclude CE from the portfolio of legitimate approaches to addressing global warming, a position that has increasingly faded after the Paris Agreement. Questions of how to deal with climate change thus provide the broader context for the governance of CE. While strategies targeting climate change do not necessarily need to consider CE, to govern CE inevitably implies that CE as an intended, deliberate intervention into the climate system constitutes climate change governance, as well as a more or less important contribution to tackling global warming. Approaching CE governance, both climate science and climate policy provide cornerstones of orientation: the scientific evidence that is, or should be, taken into account in decision-making on the one hand, and the institutional principles and norms that structure policymaking on the other.

It is important to note that different kinds of governance are at play here. For decisions and practices regarding CE research and technology development concern challenges that are different from the decisions and practices regarding climate change and its impacts. Obviously, to govern CE requires accounting for the specific challenges that come along with CE approaches—for example, as they result from the assessment of opportunities, risks, and uncertainties of various CE measures—and ensuring that CE does not aggravate the consequences of climate change. In order to make sense scientifically and politically, CE has to contribute to meeting the challenges of climate change. Ultimately, CE can only become powerful if considered helpful for pursuing and achieving the agendas and goals as set and agreed upon by international scientific and political bodies. These are, first and foremost, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), together with the agreements among its member states, such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Conference of the Parties (COP) 21 Paris Agreement.

Notions of anticipatory governance, without and with reference to this label, have been developed since the 1990s to provide approaches to shaping the research and development of emerging technologies from the outset, that is, before applications become available and societal impacts become visible. Key features relate to various forms of foresight, knowledge integration, and public engagement (Barben, Fisher, Selin, & Guston, 2008; Guston, 2014). What is at stake with anticipatory governance is the capability to imagine potential sociotechnical futures; to explore some key issues pertaining to research and innovation, risk, ethics, the distribution of benefits, and disruptive social change; and to support decision-making under uncertainty. Anticipation can take different forms—for example, outlines of rather comprehensive scenarios or more selective scenes or situations; modeling of processes that bridge present, past, and future; statistical or conceptual extrapolations—but it is fundamentally different from prediction (Sarewitz, Pielke, & Byerly, 2000). Since predictions aim at identifying future events or states with as much clarity and certainty as possible, the notion of anticipation is built on the assumption that such aims cannot be achieved whenever nonlinear processes are involved. On the other hand, due to its indeterminacy the future may also become subject to “politics of anticipation” (Beck & Mahony, 2018).

Against the background of the significant upturn of efforts to assess and govern dynamic, and often disruptive, developments in science and technology in a forward-looking manner, this article will discuss strengths and weaknesses of such approaches and explore their transfer to the nascent field of CE as a particular field of science and technology in society.

New and Emerging Fields of Science and Technology: Approaches to Anticipatory Governance

From Parliamentary Technology Assessment to a Reconfiguration of Research and Innovation

An explicit notion of anticipatory governance was first elaborated in the context of nanoscience and nanotechnology early in the 21st century. At the time this new and emerging science and technology field was subject to great expectations, both positive and negative ones. The debate about nanotechnology took off against the background of what many described as a dismal experience of contested biotechnology, which should not be repeated. In addition to issues of usefulness and desirability of scientific and technological innovations, issues of risk and uncertainty, expert and lay knowledge, power and trust, institutional frameworks and procedures have been at the core of public disputes around these two as well as other fields of science and technology. While “anticipatory governance” has since gained attention as a novel approach to dealing with some of the challenges that potentially disruptive technologies bring about, it is important to note that there is a significant history of efforts pursued in a similar spirit that shed some light on key issues at stake.

First of all, technology assessment (TA) had been prominently implemented since the 1960s in several countries, particularly in the form of science advice in support of parliamentary decision-making. The Office of Technology Assessment established by the United States Congress in 1972 can be considered an international model institution of TA (Public Law 92-484). In its declaration of purpose, section 2 holds “that (a) as technology continues to change and expand rapidly, its applications are—(1) large and growing in scale; and (2) increasingly extensive, pervasive, and critical in their impact, beneficial and adverse, on the natural and social environment.” Section 2 continues by concluding that “[(b) it was] essential that, to the fullest extent possible, the consequences of technological applications be anticipated, understood, and considered in determination of public policy on existing and emerging national problems.” What we find here is a strong statement for a comprehensive assessment of the dynamic development of science and technology in society in order to better equip policymakers with sound information and appropriate understanding for designing and determining public policy. Despite manifold achievements of parliamentary TA—such as the interdisciplinary exploration of opportunities, challenges, and risks of new and emerging fields of science and technology across various dimensions (e.g., economic, ecological, legal, ethical, and social), along with the identification of options available to decision-makers, including their respective advantages and disadvantages—criticisms addressed two fundamental problems of parliamentary TA. The first claim was that TA was often carried out too late, that is, when important decisions about research and technology development had already been made. The second issue raised said that even if policymakers were taking important funding or regulatory decisions based on TA, there was an obvious gap between the policy-related arenas of TA and the arenas in which scientists, engineers, and businesspeople were shaping the course of new and emerging fields of science and technology. Therefore, questions arose concerning how to find other ways that would allow for addressing key issues pertaining to the future pathways and impacts of science and technology both at the outset and in close relation to scientific and technological projects themselves.

A first remarkable step at bridging the temporal and social gaps mentioned was taken in the context of the big science project of biology, that is, the Human Genome Project. Around 1990, in the United States, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy jointly developed programs on the Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) of Human Genome Research, dedicating 3 to 5% of the budget to this line of research. With the life sciences and biotechnology as historic predecessors, in the following years ELSI was established in several countries as an approach to dealing with the dynamics of potentially disruptive fields and applications of science and technology. Yet, while ELSI research managed to bring TA closer to scientific and technological enterprise, both in temporal and institutional terms, ELSI research by and large remained in a separate inter/disciplinary space (constituted by philosophy, theology, law, and sociology, among others), thus failing to build closer connections to fields of science and engineering.

Against the background of continued and intense controversies over some developments in the life sciences and biotechnology, especially agricultural and food biotechnology, further steps were taken to better integrate natural and engineering sciences with social sciences and humanities, in order to gain and implement knowledge about potential opportunities and ramifications of research and innovation early on. In this context, efforts not only at assessing but also at shaping the course of science and technology in society experienced an upturn, such as constructive technology assessment (CTA; Schot & Rip, 1997), upstream engagement (Wilsdon & Willis, 2004), and real-time technology assessment (RTTA; Guston & Sarewitz, 2002). While CTA had already been developed during the 1990s in the Netherlands, a context characterized by Dutch orientation toward deliberations among various actors, it received renewed attention with the Nanotechnology Research and Development initiative of the Dutch government. Upstream engagement responded to the erosion of expert credibility and trust in experts, respectively, in the aftermath of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis and the controversies around genetically modified organisms, particularly in the United Kingdom, emphasizing the importance of public engagement with issues of science and technology, including expert knowledge. RTTA, which was informed by CTA, in particular emphasized the temporal dynamics of new and emerging science and technology. It gained prominence in the United States with the Center for Nanotechnology in Society (CNS), a university-based research center which obtained significant funding from the National Science Foundation thanks to the National Nanotechnology Initiative and the mandate established by the 21st-century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (Public Law 108–153). The National Nanotechnology Program demanded, among other things,

“(A) establishing a research program to identify ethical, legal, environmental, and other appropriate societal concerns related to nanotechnology, [. . .] (B) requiring that interdisciplinary nanotechnology research centers [. . .] include activities that address societal, ethical, and environmental concerns; (C) insofar as possible, integrating research on societal, ethical, and environmental concerns with nanotechnology research and development, and ensuring that advances in nanotechnology bring about improvements in quality of life for all Americans; and (D) providing [. . .] for public input and outreach to be integrated into the Program by the convening of regular and ongoing public discussions, through mechanisms such as citizens’ panels, consensus conferences, and educational events, as appropriate.”

CNS thus provided an institutional home that would allow experimenting with an approach that combines RTTA and anticipatory governance, hereby translating some of the politically mandated aspects into a research program of its own. Such endeavor would face “at least three general challenges: the anticipation and assessment of nanotechnologies that are in the process of emerging; the engagement of publics that are mostly still latent; and the integration of broader considerations into R&D contexts that have been largely self-governing” (Barben et al., 2008, pp. 984–985). In their seminal handbook article, Barben et al. (2008) discuss four key aspects of anticipatory governance: (1) foresight, (2) engagement, (3) integration, and (4) ensemble-ization (pp. 985–991). While foresight refers to various forward-looking activities relating to the development of science and technology in society, engagement concerns exchanges with different publics, integration deals with bringing together diverse bodies of knowledge and rendering them part of research and innovation, and ensemble-ization acknowledges that the organizational form is key in which anticipatory governance is pursued.

As the notion of governance generally reflects a longer-term shift from top-down government to distributed, and no longer state-centered, forms of decision-making and practice, attempts at anticipatorily governing science and technology in society can be undertaken from different institutional positions. In the case of CNS, anticipatory governance has been elaborated in the context of a public research university and its collaborative inter-university network and has been funded by taxpayers’ money. Such institutional positioning comes with particular opportunities and constraints, which may look quite different when compared with a setting positioned in an industry lab with private funding—for example with regard to the significance of public perceptions and the kinds of knowledge and action involved. Furthermore, anticipatory governance may take yet another, and even more different, shape if it was conceived from the perspective of a governmental agency, combining more traditional and more recent or innovative governance instruments. It is important to note, however, that so far anticipatory governance has been conceived primarily in terms of a public research ensemble. Therefore, it might be worthwhile exploring different institutional and organizational ensembles, be these with regard to CE or other emerging fields of science and technology. Further, opportunities and constraints of anticipatory governance depend on the temporal dimension of science and technology in society. For example, it makes a big difference if an emerging field of science and technology is explored with regard to its future significance in terms of ideas, fundamental research, technology development, implementation and commercialization of technological applications, or societal problem-solving. This is true with respect to all aspects of anticipatory governance, that is, the ways of anticipation, engagement, integration, and ensemble-ization.

In conclusion, while anticipatory governance as presented aims at dealing constructively with some of the challenges accompanying TA from the outset, it has remained rather experimental and confined to a public research setting. In order to gain in significance and become more powerful, anticipatory governance would need to be generalized and extended beyond institutional and sectoral boundaries (i.e., across societal domains and fields of science and technology). Further, anticipatory governance would need to increase its reach by encompassing various ensembles and engaging not only with interested citizens but also with decision-makers of different backgrounds. For it is not only non-expert or lay publics who have to be informed and deliberated with but also those who hold positions with decision-making power of one kind or another. Furthermore, when accounting for society as a whole anticipatory governance should also be conceived in relation to the predominant political institutions and practices, since governance, in the first or last instance, also concerns the state and its government and administrative bodies, whether these are democratic or otherwise.

Anticipatory Governance of CE: From Assessment to Responsible Research and Governance

Building in particular on notions of anticipatory governance of new and emerging fields of science and technology as implemented in university-based ensembles such as CNS, notions of responsible research and innovation (RRI), which gained increasing attention especially in Europe and the United States, were developed (Randles et al., 2012; Schomberg, 2007, 2012). While both governance approaches stress the importance of interdisciplinary knowledge integration and public engagement, the former particularly emphasizes the foreknowledge of significant issues of science and technology in society that should be dealt with, whereas the latter underlines the importance of developing and using science and technology toward responsible ends and in responsible ways. In particular in the context of the European Union’s framework program Horizon 2020—the pillar of research funding dedicated to meeting grand societal challenges (the other two pillars of research funding are concerned with the promotion of excellent science and industrial leadership, respectively)—RRI has gained the greatest significance to date, in terms of both institutional rationale and amount of funds.

Unexpectedly, suggestions to explore and pursue CE as an approach to tackling global warming gained in prominence both academically and publicly at a time when anticipatory governance and especially RRI experienced an upturn. It is thus no surprise that CE research and technology development were framed in terms of responsibility issues, be these in support or in opposition to CE (Matzner & Barben, 2020). Those who raised significant concerns about the immediate or long-term dangers of CE—for example by comparing CE in historical perspective with the most prominent fields of intensely debated high-risk science and technology, that is nuclear power and genetic engineering—confronted the proponents of CE with requests to account for the future responsibly. This would entail at least a moratorium on real-world CE experimentation, if not a complete ban of CE research.

In the following, we will first look at the extent to which TA reports articulated aspects of anticipatory governance as outlined, either explicitly or implicitly. We will then turn to early attempts at governing CE in order to explore whether and how ideas of anticipatory governance have been taken up across various arenas. On the basis of this analysis, we will be able to gain insights into the challenges, current state, and future prospects of anticipatorily governing CE. We will thus refer to anticipatory governance in its dual epistemic status, that is, as a set of analytical aspects on the one hand and a set of organizational aspects on the other. Both these approaches will provide insights into the emerging de facto governance of CE (Gupta & Möller, 2018; Rip, 2010).

Articulations of Anticipatory Governance in CE-Related Assessment Reports

A team of authors, who were among those who initially drafted and promoted the idea of anticipatory governance of new and emerging science and technology, analyzed TA reports with regard to the ways in which the key aspects of anticipatory governance had been taken up. Their starting point was in line with our observation that TA experienced an upturn at a time when decision-makers realized that the dynamics of science and technology posed significant challenges across numerous domains of society—challenges that since have remained, though taken on new forms, as have the responses to meeting them:

We cautiously suggest, then, that starting in the mid-1970s there has been some evolution of theory, practice, and policy toward an explicit commitment to anticipatory governance to address the uncertain futures of emerging technologies. The main evolutionary threads are: 1) a continual distancing from the naïve belief that the future of technologies-in-society is predictable and can be governed as such; 2) an increasing commitment to more formal mechanisms of public participation in both anticipation and governance of emerging technologies; and 3) an increasing role for social science through integration with natural science in seeking to come to grips with the socio-technical complexities of emerging technologies.

(Foley, Guston, & Sarewitz, 2015, p. 7)

They state what is at stake for them as well as for all those concerned with assessing CE against the background of climate change: “We don’t want to rush headlong into a future dominated by either unchecked global warming or the risks of planetary-scale climate interventions rendered real. Yet our ignorance is vast, and our ability to predict is overwrought [. . .]. So we are left to anticipate” (Foley et al., 2015, p. 2).

Since one cannot clearly predict the future as it is nonlinear and multiple—that is, consisting of a variety of possible futures—anticipation may mark a sensible way of thinking about future realities in the contemporary. However, there are plural modes to anticipate (Adam & Groves, 2007). In climate science, for example, the scientific task geared toward exploring a variety of plausible scenarios, instead of outlining the most likely scenario. While modeling builds the primary approach in climate science to creating scenarios (as well as pathways to reach them), it can be conducted in many different ways, for example as regards the underlying assumptions, the bodies of data taken into account, and the temporal and spatial scales considered (Edwards, 2001, 2010). In climate policy, too, scenarios about more or less likely or more or less desirable futures provide a medium for deliberating, strategy-building, and decision-making. In the political domain, even more so than in the scientific domain, scenarios and pathways are subject to scrutiny with respect to which data, metrics, and norms are accounted for, and according to whose priorities (Pielke, Sarewitz, Byerly, & Jamieson., 1999). At the interface between climate science and climate policy, divergent positions are put forth in response to the following questions: What role should scientific knowledge play to support, or justify, political decisions to be taken? Which knowledge, be it scientific or not, can be deemed reliable or otherwise valuable? What knowledge from which disciplinary or interdisciplinary fields, or from which fields of social practice, should count most (or at least be taken into consideration)? And, not least, which of the many normative issues concerning social, environmental, or intergenerational justice should be deliberated, in what form, and by whom?

In their assessment of five early TA reports on CE [Royal Society (2009), House of Commons (HoC, 2009), Government Accountability Office (GAO, 2011), Bipartisan Policy Center (2011), and Asilomar Scientific Organizing Committee (2010)], Foley et al. (2015) compare whether and how key aspects of anticipatory governance—foresight, engagement, integration, and ensemble-ization—are represented. Their analysis shows that among these the Royal Society report was the most influential (see Table 1). Utilizing anticipatory governance as conceptual criteria to evaluate the process in which the reports were produced, the authors attain the following picture: foresight, not surprisingly, was included in all reports, though with different notions of the future and accounts of societal dynamics. Engagement was pursued with a varying number of actors and at different degrees. Integration of diverse bodies of knowledge was mostly undertaken, though by and large in an additive form. And ensemble-ization turned out most precarious, that is, the report teams did not manage to provide a setting appropriate for capacity-building toward anticipatory governance (see Table 2). Three of the reports articulated “foresight as enhanced prediction” (Foley et al., 2015, p. 15) rather than ongoing capacity-building. According to the authors, the report by the Bipartisan Policy Center came closest to their idea of anticipatory governance (admitting, though, that Sarewitz had been part of the report’s task force). Referring to anticipatory governance to evaluate the recommendations put forth by the five reports, the authors presented Table 1.

Table 1. Report Process Analyzed using Anticipatory Governance





Royal Society:Geoengineering the climate

Principle present: Yes

Principle present: Yes

Principle present: Yes

Principle present: No

Specifics aligned: No

Predictive Societal dynamics? Yes

Separate but equal

Specifics aligned: No

HoC-STC1:The regulation of geoengineering

Principle present: Yes

Principle present: Yes

Principle present: Yes

Principle present: No

Specifics aligned: Yes

Exploratory Societal dynamics? Yes

Separate but equal

Specifics aligned: No

GAO:Climate change: Geoengineering research

Principle present: Yes

Principle present: Yes

Principle present: Yes

Principle present: Yes

Specifics aligned: No

Predictive Societal dynamics? No


Specifics aligned: No

BPC2:Climate remediation

Principle present: Yes

Principle present: Yes

Principle present: Yes

Principle present: Yes

Specifics aligned: Yes

Exploratory Societal dynamics? Yes

Mutually supportive

Specifics aligned: Yes

Climate Institute:Climate engineering

Principle present: Yes

Principle present: Yes

Principle present: Yes

Principle present: No

Specifics aligned: No

Predictive Societal dynamics? No

Separate but equal

Specifics aligned: No

Source. Foley et al. (2015, p. 14).

(1) U.K. House of Commons-Science and Technology Committee (HOC-STC).

(2) U.S.-based Bipartisan Policy Council (BPC).

They concluded their comparative analysis by stating that the five reports showed

gaps in their various approaches to foresight, engagement, and integration. There continues to be a predictive approach—we would term it a predictive fallacy—that views action as best supported through more realistic and detailed models, rather than through an exploratory approach that asks what society desires for the future, and accepts that futures are made step-by-step, rather than predicted and then achieved. Public involvement is often cast as means to educate the masses in the hope that more knowledge equates with better decisions, rather than engaging in value-based deliberation and pluralistic decision-making. Inter- and trans-disciplinary knowledge integration is challenged by the specialization of labor between social and natural scientists and between knowledge producers and decision-makers.

(Foley et al., 2015, p. 2)

Further, the authors themselves “offer anticipatory governance as a vision for growing the civic capacity to guide the emergence of novel technologies. Its principles are observed in each of the five reports reviewed, and yet those high-level principles are not systematically supported by specific recommendations that contribute to building this capacity” (Foley et al., 2015, p. 2).

Notions of Anticipatory Governance in CE-Related Governance Endeavors

Aiming to expand the scope of our analysis, we now turn to the exploration of emerging governance approaches of CE, paying particular attention to aspects of anticipatory governance. To seriously engage with governance issues of CE presupposes that one considers CE a significant emerging field of science and technology—and not just a scientific fiction or a potential future research idea—which brings about various challenges relating to the governance of research, technology development, and the potential short-, medium-, and long-term consequences resulting from its deployment. In the debate about governance, different proposals are formulated with regard to who should govern what and in what form. In the following, we will: (a) start out with the IPCC’s assessment of CE to date and its governance implications, (b) turn to governance perspectives as formulated by the CE research community, and (c) discuss exploratory CE-related governance experiments. What is at stake here is not only the question of whether existing forms of governance are sufficient or new ones are needed but also how the governance of CE may shape future climate policy—and thus the prospects of the fight against global warming.

Assessment of CE by IPCC

Looking at the fourth and fifth IPCC’s assessment reports (AR), CE is portrayed in a way that it does not seem worthwhile yet to be further pursued. Working Group 3 states in AR4:

Geo-engineering options, such as ocean fertilization to remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere, or blocking sunlight by bringing material into the upper atmosphere, remain largely speculative and unproven, and with the risk of unknown side-effects. Reliable cost estimates for these options have not been published (medium agreement, limited evidence) [11.2].

(IPCC, 2007, AR4 WG3)

The report thus makes clear that CE cannot yet be considered a viable climate policy option at all. However, it does not discourage rendering the nature of CE less speculative and unproven by further exploring its risks and various side-effects, together with scrutinizing cost-benefit ratios of potential benefits and ramifications.

Along similar, yet more detailed lines, AR5 holds:

Limited evidence precludes a comprehensive quantitative assessment of both Solar Radiation Management (SRM) and Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) and their impact on the climate system. CDR methods have biogeochemical and technological limitations to their potential on a global scale. There is insufficient knowledge to quantify how much CO2 emissions could be partially offset by CDR on a century timescale. Modelling indicates that SRM methods, if realizable, have the potential to substantially offset a global temperature rise, but they would also modify the global water cycle, and would not reduce ocean acidification. If SRM were terminated for any reason, there is high confidence that global surface temperatures would rise very rapidly to values consistent with the greenhouse gas forcing. CDR and SRM methods carry side effects and long-term consequences on a global scale.

(IPCC, 2013, AR5 WG1, SPM)

This report, too, reads as if it still considered the potentials of CE too speculative, but that CE would most likely bring about a variety of dangerous risks. Against the background of this preliminary assessment, which does not present CE as an approach capable of significantly and responsibly offsetting global warming, issues of governance do not figure in a prominent fashion (albeit by implication, because they are not an explicit topic). At the time being, governance tasks do not seem pressing, except for probably discouraging CE deployment. Should actors nevertheless want to pursue CE research and technology development, it would be of grave importance to meet governance challenges appropriately. However, it seems quite plausible and probable that against the background of the 2 °C or, even more so, the 1.5 °C goal established by the Paris Agreement of 2015, the debate about CE-based options to tackle global warming may experience increased interest also within IPCC (Anderson & Peters, 2016; Peters & Geden, 2017). The 1.5 °C special report of 2018 offers clear indication of such a shift.

The executive summary of chapter 2 states:

“All analysed pathways limiting warming to 1.5 °C with no or limited overshoot use CDR to some extent to neutralize emissions from sources for which no mitigation measures have been identified and, in most cases, also to achieve net negative emissions to return global warming to 1.5 °C following a peak (high confidence). The longer the delay in reducing CO2 emissions towards zero, the larger the likelihood of exceeding 1.5 °C, and the heavier the implied reliance on net negative emissions after mid-century to return warming to 1.5 °C (high confidence)”

(IPCC, 2018, p. 96).

For a more in-depth analysis see chapter 4, in particular 4.3.7 and 4.3.8 (IPCC, 2018, pp. 342–352).

Governance Perspectives of CE Research Community

In light of its assessment of CE, the Royal Society report stresses that the pursuit of CE-related research and technology development would require previous development of a governance framework, that is, CE should not “be subject to large-scale research or deployment before appropriate governance mechanisms are in place” (Royal Society, 2009, p. xi). This report presents governance issues to be even more challenging than scientific and technical issues. Its suggestion that CE governance should be developed under international bodies such as the United Nations (UN) Commission for Sustainable Development (Royal Society, 2009, p. xii) has not been taken up. However, many governance initiatives followed the report’s advice to consider governance mechanisms.

As of 2020, the predominant arena in which governance issues have been negotiated is the arena of scientific and technological research, including research funding. The importance of this arena is due to two facts: that CE is still at an early stage (at least as regards most of its methods) and that there is no institutional framework in place at both national and international levels that guides CE research and technology development. In this arena, positions that aim for self-regulation by researchers, that is, through principles and norms that they formulate and thus acknowledge, have been prevalent—rather than regulation by governmental agencies, which may be perceived as externally imposed and thus often not appropriate.

Proponents of CE research have discussed aspects of governance from the outset. David Keith’s early and, at that time, most comprehensive review of CE research outlined governance issues such as “moral hazard,” security, liability, or unpredictability (Keith, 2000). He demanded that the scientific and political debate on governance measures should be put into perspective with climate change. In his famous editorial essay of 2006, Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen suggested stratospheric particle injection as a means to solve “a policy-makers dilemma” (Crutzen, 2006, p. 211). The underlying idea of a techno-scientific fix of the global challenge of climate change was already implied in his early Anthropocene paper, in which he identified the task “for scientists and engineers to guide society towards environmentally sustainable management” (Crutzen, 2002, p. 23). From a different, rather skeptical, perspective, Alan Robock offered a list of “20 reasons why geoengineering might be a bad idea” (Robock, 2008), combining scientific, technological, ethical, and political arguments. Some praised Robock’s text as “a prominent example of scientific leadership of a debate about ethics and governance” (Stilgoe, 2014, p. 83). These inputs, among others, provided a background for discussions even about the most basic question, that is, whether one should encourage or engage with the further study of CE—or not.

Soon after publication of the Royal Society report, a British publicly funded research project stirred an intense debate about governance. The project Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE, 2010–2013) started in October 2010 as a testbed field experiment for reducing incoming sunlight by injecting atmospheric particles. The project aimed at: (1) evaluating candidate particles, (2) testing a possible delivery system, and (3) modeling climate and environmental effects. The experimental setup passed two university ethics committees. One year after the launch, the experiment was postponed for six months and eventually cancelled (see overview in Stilgoe, 2014). During SPICE’s halt, a parallel project investigated public opinions (Corner, Pidgeon, & Parkhill, 2012). The social scientists found out that most of the laypersons questioned would approve continuation of the SPICE testbed experiment but rejected a large-scale atmospheric experiment. Public protests against the project, led by the Canadian Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group) (e.g., H.O.M.E., 2011: “Hose down!”), were limited to online activism and were not the main reason for cancellation. The leading SPICE engineer laid out in his personal statement (Watson, 2012) three reasons for cancelling the project: (1) issues of governance (e.g., no international agreement), (2) issues of intellectual property (project scientists had submitted patents for similar technologies), and (3) that more time was needed for deliberation and stakeholder engagement. In reaction to the scientific and political dispute, scholars concluded that CE science could not regulate itself (Blackstock, 2012) and that a charter for research was necessary ([Nature editorial], 2012). Another lesson learned from SPICE was that even if the testbed’s fundamental risks seemed acceptable, a public debate before scheduling the experiment was considered crucial for responsible conduct (Macnaghten & Owen, 2011). Some lauded the cancellation of the U.K. field trial SPICE by its lead engineer as “responsible self-governance in the absence of the governmental oversight” (Long, Hamburg, & Shepherd, 2012, p. 323).

Apart from whether scientists advocate far-reaching self-governance or for a combination of self-governance and governmental regulation—a variety of such combinations have been developed and institutionalized in various fields of science and technology—key tasks concern decisions on the conduct (e.g., scale of experiment) or the coordination (e.g., with or without private investors) of research programs (Morgan & Ricke, 2010). As with controversial CE field tests, some claim that an “allowed zone” should be carved out:

Our position is that the experimental team must determine in advance what the allowed zone is for the experiment in question, and provide quantitative estimates of where the proposed experiment fits within that allowed zone. In addition, the experimental team must provide measurements and analysis within the context of the experiment to demonstrate that the experiment did in fact fit within the allowed zone and the experimental estimate.

(Wood & Ackerman, 2013, p. 468)

The largest publicly funded research consortium to date, the Priority Program “Climate Engineering: Risks, Challenges, Opportunities?” [Schwerpunktprogramm 1689 (SPP 1689); funding period 2013–2019], funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG), started out with the aim of pursuing a comprehensive assessment of CE approaches without any aspiration toward technology development. Such a stance should allow for a thorough scientific inquiry of CE—based on a wide interdisciplinary array of research fields in the natural (e.g., earth, marine, atmospheric), social, and humanistic sciences—without taking a position on the viability and legitimacy of CE as a climate policy option. In 2010, this approach to CE research was conceived of as a “responsibility initiative” by the scientists involved. The coordinators have valued the SPP’s interdisciplinary culture as a “promising tool to engage the scientific disciplines relevant for a comprehensive assessment of CE and to constructively engage in the discussion with stakeholders and policymakers” (Oschlies & Klepper, 2017, p. 133). Even though some projects within the SPP have addressed governance issues, they have mostly done so by observing ongoing interdisciplinary and international controversies, rather than outlining criteria for responsible conduct of CE research (Matzner & Barben, 2018). While the SPP’s research agenda took up ideas of anticipatory governance, the biggest challenge of providing an ensemble capable of combining its key elements in a rather systematic fashion has still to be met. After the Paris Agreement, the previous clear separation between research and innovation in the responsible pursuit of CE—that is, by saying Yes to the former and No to the latter—has increasingly been called into question. Thus, in the future, the differentiated assessment of CE approaches might enable the further investigation and pursuit of new pathways of climate policy that make selective use of CE.

CE-Related Governance Experiments

Interestingly, CE governance has been a prominent concern not only of the CE research community, but also of scientific organizations, think tanks, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and political advisory bodies. National or international policymaking bodies (such as ministries, parliaments, and international organizations), however, have seldom provided official statements regarding the governance of CE. The first official statement of an acting government on CE was the minor interpellation by the German parliament to the German government in 2012 (Deutsche Bundesregierung, 2012). The governmental reply to the parliamentary set of 67 questions was crafted in a careful and precautionary tone but received little public or academic attention. The hearings by the U.K. HoC (2009–2010) and the U.S. Congress (2010 and 2017) gained more widespread attention and influence. Subsequently, the HoC Science and Technology Committee initiated an inquiry on how CE should be regulated. Five researchers from different disciplines followed this request with a memorandum now known as the Oxford Principles (Rayner, Redgwell, Savulescu, Pidgeon, & Kruger, 2013). The five key principles to guide CE research presented are:

  1. (1) geoengineering to be regulated as a public good;

  2. (2) public participation in geoengineering decision-making;

  3. (3) disclosure of geoengineering research and open publication of results;

  4. (4) independent assessment of impacts; and

  5. (5) governance before deployment (Rayner et al., 2013, pp. 502–503, in more detail pp. 504–508).

The HoC endorsed these principles in 2010. Both in the HoC and among researchers, principle 1 was the most controversial since most understood that private capital should be excluded. One of the authors of the principles contradicted this point, saying that the private sector should rather be encouraged to get involved, “albeit with a regulatory framework that would help to stymie the creation of vested interests” (Kruger, 2013, p. 2). Although the authors claimed that “high-level principles” were important (Heyward, Rayner, & Savulescu, 2017, p. 115), others criticized the principles’ inadequacy for concrete governance (Kwa & Hemert, 2013, p. 89). Another criticism argued that the Oxford Principles legitimized CE research and field trials (Owen, 2014), therefore closing down alternative pathways that exclude CE research all together (Bellamy, 2016, pp. 138–139; see also Hulme, 2014).

In March 2010, scientists, social scientists, policy experts, and journalists gathered at Asilomar, California, to discuss whether and how CE could be pursued responsibly (Economist, 2010). The choice of meeting place was deeply symbolic since the Asilomar conferences of 1973 and 1975 had become landmark events in the development of recombinant DNA technologies (i.e., genetic engineering). These conferences served to communicate that the leading scientists were pioneering a responsible conduct of security and risk issues on the one hand and to provide a blueprint for how one should or may want to regulate this emerging powerful field of science and technology on the other (Krimsky, 1983). Without giving a clear recommendation, the conference participants generally endorsed the Oxford Principles. However, the meeting report also formulated principles of its own: (1) promoting collective benefit, (2) establishing responsibility and liability, (3) open and cooperative research, (4) iterative evaluation and assessment, and (5) public involvement and consent (Asilomar Scientific Organizing Committee, 2010). Note that neither the Asilomar Principles nor framing of CE as “climate remediation” have been widely accepted.

Convinced that before any deployment of CE measures a governance framework should be established—as suggested by the Royal Society report, among others—various CE governance initiatives were launched. The most notable initiatives have been the Solar Radiation Governance Initiative (SRMGI, 2010–, United Kingdom), the Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment (FCEA, 2014–, United States), and the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative (C2G2, 2017–, United States):

  • The Royal Society Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and TWAS (Academy of Sciences for the Developing World), initiated the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (SRMGI) in 2010. The Initiative explored governance needs for SRM research, rather than deployment. It hosted numerous workshops, thereby including participants from the Global South. Along the way, the initial aim of developing specific governance recommendations was given up. The SRMGI found it more “helpful and realistic to ‘open up’ discussions of SRM governance by exploring and recording the different perspectives that exist, rather than ‘closing down’ discussions by producing prescriptive recommendations” (SRMGI, 2011, p. 12).

  • In 2013, the Washington Geoengineering Consortium was founded at American University. One year later, it was renamed Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment (FCEA) in order to prevent misunderstanding that it would promote a pro-CE agenda, and it fully dedicated its activities to assessing CE (WGC, 2014). The FCEA’s scope of work have included: (1) engaging civil society actors and the wider public, (2) facilitating a discussion of options for CE governance, and (3) supporting policy-relevant CE research. Its events and especially its blog have been well received within the CE community.

  • The Carnegie Council founded the C2G2 in 2017 with Janos Pasztor (formerly UN Assistant Secretary-General for Climate Change under Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon) as its executive director. The objectives of C2G2 are, among others: (1) to catalyze the creation of effective governance for CE technologies; (2) to provide a neutral platform for governmental, intergovernmental, and non-state actors; (3) to foster public debate so as to help informed decision-making by society; and (4) to encourage risk management because CE risks are too big if left ungoverned (C2G2, 2017, pp. 3–4). Pasztor (C2G2) and Nicholson (FCEA) claimed that the “CE research community has begun to address these [governance] issues, but the global policy community has not” (Pasztor, Nicholson, & Morrow, 2016, p. 4). Therefore, both initiatives work closely together to foster stronger policy integration.

A research consortium that focused on issues of governance from social science perspectives was the Climate Geoengineering Governance project (CGG; funding period 2012–2014); it was funded by two U.K. research councils. It addressed issues of framing, decision-making, expertise, public awareness, and justice, often providing an international comparison. One example of policy-relevant framing is the inadequacy of the pro-anti-axis. According to Rose Cairns and Andy Stirling, catch-all phrases for CE hinder the nuanced assessment that is needed for fostering effective governance (Cairns & Stirling, 2014, p. 32). [For other projects that have investigated governance issues, see European Transdisciplinary Assessment of Climate Engineering (EuTRACE, 2012–2015, European Union; Schäfer, Lawrence, Stelzer, Born, & Low, 2015), Harvard Solar Geoengineering Project (2016–, United States; Keith, 2017), and Mechanism and Impacts of Geoengineering (2017–, China).]

Against the background of these initiatives, as well as the fact that power is distributed very unevenly, some have suggested that developing countries should have an important voice in whether and how CE should be developed and deployed (Rahman, Artaxo, Asrat, & Parker, 2018; Winickoff, Flegal, & Asrat, 2015).

Table 2. Governance Projects and Practices Evaluated: The Four Key Elements of Anticipatory Governance








Stage gate process

[2010–2013, United Kingdom]

  • Public contestation not anticipated in sandpit (Stilgoe, 2014, p. 133)

  • Social scientists and some NGOs included in the stage gate process after project start

  • Requests for communication and stakeholder engagement caused delay

  • Postponement and cancellation seen as successful governance (Long et al., 2012)

Process: Yes, stage gate process for innovation management

Outcome: Partly, problematic implementation of stage gate. Test bed failed

Process: Yes, partly, but in later stage

Outcome: Yes, after project start civil society was included

Process: Hardly, with marginal integration in the beginning

Outcome: Partly, improved after reevaluation

Process: Problematic, with EPSRC and stage gate panel

Outcome: Partly, with strong influence by stage gate panel. Engagement rather late

Oxford Principles

[2010, United Kingdom]

  • Abstract high-level principles (Heyward et al., 2017)

  • Initiated by British HoC S&T Council, approved by council and U.K. government

  • Often cited in governance discussions

Process: No, transparency and assessment but not foresight

Outcome: Partly, by demanding early assessment and governance of CE research

Process: No, principle claimed solely by authors

Outcome: Yes, engagement requested as general principle

Process: Partly, limited to interdisciplinary experts (i.e., authors)

Outcome: Yes, interdisciplinary and public scrutiny demanded

Process: No, authors demand open governance process

Outcome: Partly, significant role in CE discussion, principles subject to contestation



[2010, United States]

  • One-time event with experts and civil society actors

  • Limited impact on CE debate

  • Inclusion of many scientific disciplines

  • Asilomar recommendations in support of Oxford Principles, focus on “collective benefit”

Process: Hardly, in-conference discussion only

Outcome: Yes, with iterative evaluation and assessment by experts

Process: No, mainly academic expert involvement from various countries

Outcome: Yes, public engagement and consent demanded

Process: Hardly, expert discussion only

Outcome: Hardly, expert knowledge as primary source

Process: No, Asilomar only aimed to “provide input”

Outcome: Poorly


(Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative)

[2010–, international]

  • Initiated by science and civil society actors

  • Focused on SRM research governance only

  • “Opening up” the debate, not fixed recommendations

  • Interest in integrating experts from Global South

Process: Yes, identify future benefits and risks of SRM

Outcome: Partly, by addressing future expectations in SRMGI workshops

Process: Yes, engagement as “honest broker”

Outcome: Yes, integrating experts from countries of Global South (i.e., through workshops and funding)

Process: Partly, integrating various scientific disciplines.

Outcome: Yes, “open up” debate, foster interdisciplinary and “coordinated research”

Process: No, mechanism to disseminate SRM governance

Outcome: Hardly, but cooperation with other governance projects

H.O.M.E. campaign

(Hands off Mother Earth NGO campaign)

[2011–, international]

  • NGO campaign led by ETC Group

  • Integrating various international NGOs

  • Focus on protest against CE field trials

Process: No, not systematic

Outcome: Hardly, in risk-oriented assessment of CE

Process: Hardly, with engagement of NGOs only

Outcome: Partly, by demanding voice in the discussion

Process: No, selective reference to scientific literature

Outcome: Hardly, by demanding more control over research

Process: No

Outcome: Hardly, in demanding ban or moratorium


(Climate Geoengineering Governance project)

[2012–2014, United Kingdom]

  • U.K. research project including Universities of Oxford, Sussex, and University College London (UCL)

  • Research and policy papers on various governance issues

Process: Partly, by research on framings and forms of foresight

Outcome: Yes, in demanding integrated foresight

Process: Hardly, with only interdisciplinary academic engagement

Outcome: Yes, in research on participation and demands for more engagement

Process: Partly, as interdisciplinary project

Outcome: Partly

Process: No

Outcome: Hardly, but recontextualization of climate policy options

SPP 1689

(DFG Priority Program “Climate Engineering—Risks, Challenges, Opportunities?”)

[2013–2019, Germany]

  • Interdisciplinary research program funded by the German Research Foundation

  • Key task: comprehensive assessment of CE based on interdisciplinary research

  • Focus on responsible governance, not technology development or innovation

Process: Yes, in climate modeling as well as scenario workshops

Outcome: Partly, modeling as predominant form

Process: Hardly, since scientific methods are in focus

Outcome: Partly, in research on governance issues and public understanding of science

Process: Partly, but largely academic knowledge with some public dissemination and outreach (e.g., school project)

Outcome: Partly, consideration of further knowledge sources through social science research

Process: Partly, by attempt to foster public and policymaker engagement

Outcome: Hardly, with no general strategy of integrating the SPP into governance initiatives


(Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment)

[2013–, United States]

  • Formerly “Washington Geoengineering Consortium”

  • Focus on interdisciplinary assessment of CE

  • Facilitate discussion among expert and civil society actors on blogs and webinars

  • Close collaboration with C2G2

Process: Hardly, only in expert contributions

Outcome: Hardly, not systematic, but invitation of forward-looking activities

Process: Partly, by integrating academics and civil society actors

Outcome: Partly, but focus on experts

Process: Partly, integration of scientific expert and civil society knowledge

Outcome: Partly, with interdisciplinary and public debate

Process: Hardly, but cooperation with other projects

Outcome: Hardly, because no ensemble-ization strategy

CEC14 and CEC17

(Climate Engineering Conferences)

[2014 and 2017, Germany]

  • Inter- and transdisciplinary conferences initiated by IASS and supported by SRMGI, C2G2, and SPP 1689, among others

  • Focus on scientific assessment not technology development

Process: Partly, in scientific contributions

Outcome: Hardly, with no clear foresight perspective

Process: Partly, with attempted transdisciplinary engagement

Outcome: Partly, by engaging experts and NGOs

Process: Partly, but little public knowledge

Outcome: Partly

Process: Partly, by integrating governance initiatives

Outcome: Hardly, without clear strategy


(Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative)

[2017–, United States]

  • Initiated by Janos Pasztor, former UN Assistant Secretary-General for Climate Change

  • Financed by Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs

  • In close collaboration with FCEA, plus SRMGI, Climate Interactive, and Heinrich Böll Stiftung

Process: Partly, by establishing assessment through debate

Outcome: Hardly, with little focus on how to undertake foresight

Process: Yes, with engagement of experts, NGOs, especially the policy community

Outcome: Yes, engagement as major objective

Process: Partly, with integration of expert, civil society, and policy knowledge

Outcome: Partly, with increasing integration of policy community

Process: Partly, by including policy community and other governance initiatives

Outcome: Partly, in being a “catalyst” for governance

Note. Evaluated in chronological order. EPSRC = Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council; S&T = Science and Technology.

Table 2 summarizes in a more systematic fashion to what extent the 10 projects and initiatives selected have subscribed to anticipatory governance. In each case, the four key elements of anticipatory governance have been taken up in a different way. There often are strong differences with regard to the process by which a project or initiative came into being and the outcomes of the projects. Foresight of CE applications have mostly been linked to earth system modeling and economic modeling, which is not surprising considering the significance of modeling in climate science. However, to render climate models capable of accounting for different kinds and scales of CE effects has been a great challenge to climate science modeling, especially when projecting scenarios 50 or 100 years into the future. At the same time, modeling raises manifold uncertainties and ambiguities. How to conceive of climate and the Earth’s futures with or without CE has also been a task for more imaginative thinking about future life on planet Earth. In such context, concepts and methods of integration and engagement may also be valuable, whether for imagining alternative futures or for addressing CE-related governance issues. Several projects and initiatives have investigated, or developed criteria for, public engagement—though have seldom pursued actual engagement. SRMGI and the Climate Engineering Conferences (CEC) in 2014 and 2017 (CEC14 and CEC17) are two of a few projects engaging with experts from the Global South. The integration of bodies with diverse knowledge has only been attempted, and successful, to a rather limited extent so far. Many initiatives are dominated by expert knowledge, with little inclusion of local knowledge or citizen science. This contrasts with the fact that demands for more public engagement, for example to raise awareness about CE-related issues, are quite widespread. Ensemble-ization especially has been given very little attention and thus been pursued insufficiently by most projects and initiatives. “[I]nteractions between the work of research groups and the wider social and policy processes” (Barben et al., 2008, p. 990) are sometimes requested but rarely implemented. A strong focus on bringing together experts, civil society organizations, and parts of the policy community by networking with other initiatives has been fundamental to Janos Pasztor’s C2G2. Overall, the creation of ensembles capable of articulating the key elements of anticipatory governance has only partially been pursued. However, with increasing acknowledgment of the importance of foresight, knowledge integration, and engagement as key elements of governance, the need for appropriate organizational and institutional settings should also gain more attention, be it in research, technology development, or policymaking.

Conclusion and Outlook

The future tense is key to climate change and climate policy. It is controversial whether and how CE may provide options of how to respond to climate change. CE became taboo—similar to adaptation in the early stage of the discussion—because it was framed as “failed mitigation.” The question whether and how CE can contribute to mitigation of or adaptation to climate change is still open and controversial. Our findings suggest that CE has not yet turned from a rather marginal idea into an established set of methods in the portfolio of climate policy options. At the same time, the debate surrounding this issue has experienced a dynamic change in which a significant part of CE methods is seriously contemplated for further development. Considering the various implementation scenarios debated, some methods of CE have already been included in policy proposals and entered a development stage—as the discussion around CDR consolidation in IPCC assessments, and in particular in the 1.5 °C special report, illustrates—whereas other methods remain highly speculative and contested.

It is important to note that the governance of CE unfolds in the broader context of climate policy and climate science. As uncertainty is underlying not only ways of thinking and knowing the future but also ways of acting upon it (see various chapters in Janich & Rhein, 2018), anticipatory governance may provide valuable guidance on how to approach challenging presents and futures in a reflexive way. In consequence, anticipatory governance makes people and organizations not only sensitive of risks, uncertainties, and forms of ignorance, but also ready to adjust and realign their positions, according to changing knowledge and preferences in the worlds of science, policymaking and politics, or civil society.

The significance of the temporality of climate change implies that the ways in which the past, present, and future are linked are key, be this with regard to the dynamics between the natural and social processes driving, or affected by, global warming, or with regard to the cognitive and practical dimensions of recognizing, or dealing with, climate change (Adam & Groves, 2007). Against this background, notions of anticipatory governance may prove powerful. “Anticipation” refers to different ways in which actors grapple with future developments and events, as these actors imagine, explore, and analyze them. And “governance” concerns the various ways in which actors act upon the future, aiming at planning for, shaping, or controlling real-world issues such as global warming or CE.

In the aftermath of the Paris Agreement of 2015, CE will likely undergo a significantly different valuation: from a scientific fringe idea to a set of measures to be normalized into climate policy portfolios (Geden, Scott, & Palmer, 2018). The IPCC 1.5 °C special report of 2018 clearly indicates such a shift, pointing to a potential emerging consensus that CDR is an integral part of the mitigation pathways toolbox.

When assessing CE, or considering its potential as a policy option to complement mitigation and adaptation policies, a basic presupposition holds that CE has been an umbrella term for a broad variety of measures across CDR and SRM approaches, each representing a characteristic profile of benefits, risks, and uncertainties at specific scales. How conflicts around CE unfold thus also depends on the particular CE technology in question, its sociotechnical implementation scenario, governance issues identified from local to global scales, and the (non-)inclusion of NGOs and various publics. The AR of CE, together with governance-oriented projects and initiatives, contribute to what some have called “de facto governance” (Gupta & Möller, 2018; Rip, 2010), that is, a mode of emerging governance which has not become part of institutionalized policy frameworks yet. As to CE serving as an umbrella term, however, an increasing bifurcation between CDR and SRM approaches has taken shape. Thereby, CDR is normalized as an approach that expands mitigation options and, thus, should no longer be attributed to CE, while SRM remains marginalized as a CE approach which should not be further pursued (some might say: for the time being). As the “report refrains from using the term ‘geoengineering’ and separates SRM from CDR and other mitigation options” (IPCC, 2018, p. 347), it treats both CE options differently. The IPPC’s 1.5 °C special report of 2018 thus accounts for CDR methods in quite some detail (see in particular IPCC, 2018, pp. 313–443)—for example, BECCS (bioenergy in combination with carbon capture and storage)—while leaving aside SRM for any of the pathways considered. SRM is assessed as a possible method to “reduce the climate impacts of a temporary temperature overshoot” (IPCC, 2018, p. 351). However, issues of “technological maturity, physical understanding, potential impacts, and challenges of governance, constrain the ability to implement SRM in the near future” (IPCC, 2018, p. 352).

Climate science, including research on climate interventions, relies on data and models (Edwards, 2001). Climate modeling is also used for projecting possible future events and developments. The reliance on models may result in the “predictive fallacy” that future actions are best supported through better modeling studies, rather than other forms of exploring the potential societal impacts of CE in various futures (Foley et al., 2015, p. 21). While CE assessments are often focused on technical criteria such as feasibility and economic optimality, Rob Bellamy (2016) pleas for a sociotechnical approach that includes reflexive foresight, that is, a form of foresight that opens up to a greater plurality of pathways, as well as to comparative and interpretative scrutiny (see also Vervoort & Gupta, 2018).

Climate science is generally charged with aggregating the state of knowledge and outlining possible climate futures, together with options for policymaking, yet without permission to make prescriptive political statements. If climate science is asked to “furnish policymakers with ‘regulatory science’ and to anticipate and measure the performance of policies in the future” (Beck & Mahony, 2017, p. 312), Silke Beck and Martin Mahony see a “politics of anticipation” at work (see also Beck & Mahony, 2018). This points us to the fact that anticipation is not only a primarily cognitive activity, possibly supported by various scientific methods, but also a field of political controversy, which in turn becomes aligned with different, yet opposing, approaches to dealing with climate change.

TA has been developed in an attempt to systematically explore the dynamic proliferation of societal challenges by new and emerging fields of science and technology, in order to support future-oriented decision-making. Although TA has been concerned with issues of both anticipation and governance, an elaborated notion of anticipatory governance was first articulated in the context of a publicly funded and university-based research center (i.e., CNS), which at the same time was part of a major governmental research and innovation initiative (i.e., the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative). While the emphasis was on conceptualizing anticipatory governance as a particular approach to integrated TA (i.e., RTTA) in an interdisciplinary academic context of research, teaching, and outreach, wider governmental and industrial contexts did not receive equal analytical attention—although, in the bigger picture of governing science and technology in society, these have to be considered as well. Together with exploring forms of foresight, knowledge integration, and public engagement as key aspects of anticipatory governance, the work of CNS highlighted the fundamental importance of a fourth key aspect, that is, ensemble-ization.

It is interesting to note that TA reports on CE as well as governance-related projects and initiatives refer to aspects of anticipatory governance. This concerns ensemble-ization in the contexts of governing research and technology development as well as of transnational climate policy initiatives. In our view, this shows that the task of creating organizational structures and practices in different settings (e.g., research centers, programs, clusters) is a strategic one—as is the task of creating interorganizational linkages across different institutional domains, such as academia, government, civil society, and industry. Such structures and linkages would serve to develop fora that enable deliberations about and learning from different forms of foresight, integration, and engagement—and, not least, they would also raise numerous research questions, some of which might be best addressed within these settings, contributing to capacities of integrated interdisciplinary research as well as of self-reflexivity across societal domains.


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