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Geoengineering: rights, risks and ethics

Sam Adelman

Keywords: geoengineering; solar radiation management; carbon dioxide removal; human rights; moral hazard; risk

This article discusses arguments that manipulating the Earth's climate may provoke unforeseen, unintended and uncontrollable consequences that threaten human rights. The risks arise from both main types of geoengineering: solar radiation management (SRM) techniques and carbon dioxide removal (CDR). SRM creates particular risks because it is difficult to test on a wide scale and may not be capable of being recalled after deployment. Adequate, enforceable governance structures do not currently exist to assess and regulate the risks of climate engineering, not least whether such technologies can be terminated in the absence of significant emissions reductions. This article is divided into six sections. After the opening introductory section, section 2 discusses the links between climate change and human rights. It briefly outlines the range of rights, including procedural rights, that might be violated by geoengineering. This is followed, in section 3, by an evaluation of the risks of SRM and CDR. The fourth section discusses debates on the ethics of geoengineering. Section 5 critiques hubristic faith in technological solutions. The final section examines the governance of geoengineering and the extent to which international environmental law and human rights law might be used to regulate the research and deployment of geoengineering.

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