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date: 05 August 2020

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

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