Subproject Political Economy

Global Governance under the Uncertainties of Climate Engineering


Rapid climate change manifesting itself in a rising global average temperature poses an enormous challenge to the international community. The unequal distribution of possible consequences of climate change leads to divergent assesments of the measures to contain it. In the light of these divergent judgements, new emerging technologies of climate engineering (CE) are frequently discussed, either as a short-term “quick fix” to avert the immediate risks of a rapidly changing climate or as a cheap long-term alternative to highly costly reductions of green-house gas emissions. While measures of CE could solve some problems related to climate change, the problem of coordinating these measures on an international level remains to be resolved. The already existing uncertainties about the costs and benefits of climatic change are even more severe when it comes to CE, since costs and benefits might emerge as unintended consequences of these measures. In order to assess costs and benefits of climate change, policy-makers can at least rely on different laboratory models. Little is known, however, about the consequences of an intentional large-scale manipulation of the climate. But CE-measures are likely to produce “winners and losers” on a global scale. As a result, conflicts about the distribution of costs and gains as well as conflicts of aims are likely to appear within the international community. Policy-makers thus face the dilemma of the urgent need for political coordination under a high degree of uncertainty.


The sub-project aims at highlighting the drawbacks and opportunities of global governance under the uncertainties of climate engineering. The project intends to proceed in four steps: Based on the insights from the natural sciences, we will select one CE-Measure that is (a) global in its effects and therefore might cause irritations within the international community and (b) is likely to be implemented in the future. In a second step the project will try to identify the inner structure of the possible conflicts stemming from the implementation of CE-measures by relying on the cost-benefit-analysis from the environmental-economics project. Using game-theory, these findings will be utilized to model how this conflict - in combination with high uncertainties about costs and benefits – might enable or limit international coordination on the field of climate engineering. Thirdly, the project will analyze to what extent the structures of the conflict on the field of CE resembles those of conflicts on other fields of international coordination and how governance has been achieved in these areas or what factors constrained it. One example of such a policy-field is international finance regulation. The question is how considerable uncertainties about costs and benefits have been handled and what form of coordination has ultimately been successful. In a final step, our findings will be used to evaluate different options concerning the global governance of climate engineering.


Prof. Dr. Stefanie Walter and M.A. Wolfgang Dietz

Editor: office
Latest Revision: 2018-05-23