07/28/2008 - 12:16

Designing a geoengineering research agenda should be a group effort

All of the participants in this roundtable have agreed that geoengineering research is necessary--although not all of us agree on whether experimental research in the open environment is necessary (or a good idea) in addition to theoretical research, modeling, and laboratory research. No less than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report and the national academies of science of the G-8 countries have called for research into geoengineering. So how can the scientific community come to consensus about geoengineering research and make recommendations to governments for funding?

Geoengineering is a multidisciplinary activity, regardless of what strategy is being contemplated--solar radiation management, carbon dioxide drawdown by ocean iron fertilization, or any of the other suggestions that have been made. This means that no single scientific community can pose all of the research questions. Geoengineering options also inherently affect all nations through their impact on the planetary environment.

Appropriate scientific groups already exist that are well-suited to discuss research needs for geoengineering while considering how geoengineering interacts with economic, social, and governmental concerns. These research programs don't fund research, but provide a framework and mechanism for international scientific research priority-setting. Each could bring important intellectual resources to bear on understanding the way forward with geoengineering research:

These international global environmental change programs have taken notice of the active debate about geoengineering and have begun to discuss the role that they could play in identifying the research necessary to advance knowledge. For example, SOLAS undertook a review of ocean iron fertilization science, inspiring suggestions for the specific research necessary to understand the role that this technique could play in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. (See "Mesoscale Iron Enrichment Experiments 1993-2005: Synthesis and Future Directions.")

These established programs, which influence research programs in individual countries, can play a convening role in bringing together scientists from around the world to consider research questions and the best ways to answer them. They can provide a forum for the development of international research priorities. They can sponsor research syntheses. And by virtue of their established communication pathways, they can link physical climate, biogeochemistry, biodiversity, and human elements of the complex landscape of geoengineering.

We urge the programs to consider the critical role that they could play in assisting the world's research communities in defining the path for future research.