Climate Engineering and International Law

The legal sub-project within the Marsilius project “The Global Governance of Climate Engineering“ assesses the intentional human interferences in the climate under international law.


The first part of the thesis focuses on the compatibility of the research and enforcement of different technical measures with current international law. In the second part, feasible forms of action under international law for future research and application of the envisaged forms of intervention in the climate will be analysed and evaluated.


In a first step, hypothetically assuming the research and actual enforcement of Climate Engineering technologies, it will be elaborated which existent rules under international law could contradict these undertakings. Thereby the different measures discussed in the field of Climate Engineering have to be distinguished. Until now climate engineering technologies targeted to combat climate change have not been included in any international agreement. With regard to Solar Radiation Management by way of deploying sulphate particles into the stratosphere the Environmental Modification Convention (ENMOD), the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) and the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer have to be observed. Measures such as the fertilization of the oceans or the chemical CO2 capture within the seabed might contravene the London Dumping Convention, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Furthermore, it has to be analysed whether any rules of environmental law constituting customary international law restrict or prohibit measures of Climate Engineering.


The second part of the thesis focuses on the presentation and legal comparison of feasible (environmental) governance schemes for various measures of Climate Engineering.


First, the different legal and non-legal forms of action relevant under environmental law will be displayed. Based thereon it will be examined which governance instruments appear to be practicable with respect to Climate Engineering, thereby addressing their potential designs, their advantages and disadvantages. It is important to notice the particularity of Climate Engineering in that it does not require the whole community of states to cooperate. In fact, measures can be realised both technically and monetarily by groups of subjects of international law or even unilaterally. Consequently, governance structures used in the fields of climate protection under international environmental law – in particular the Kyoto and Montreal processes – cannot be directly transferred to the area of Climate Engineering. A unilateral interference or one which is implemented by only a few states raises the question of competence and the action’s democratic legitimacy even if it is based on an international treaty by and between the involved states. In this respect, the question of how to deal with risks and uncertainties under international environmental law regarding potential negative side effects of the measures has to be considered in a comprehensive evaluation of governance instruments. 


Therefore different regulatory approaches – from global governance to the point of unilateral actions – shall be analysed with regard to different measures in order to achieve a legal evaluation as to how a governance structure of Climate Engineering could be shaped under international law.


David Reichwein

Editor: office
Latest Revision: 2018-05-23