Climate engineering: Challenges to international law and potential responses

Presented by Ted Parson, School of Law and Institute of the Environment and Sustainability

Monday, October 01, 2012
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
La Kretz Hall, Suite 300, Large conference room

About the Talk

Continuing failure to control greenhouse gas emissions has lately brought increased attention to engineered interventions to limit climate change, particularly to high-leverage methods to reduce incoming sunlight, such as distributing reflective particles in the upper atmosphere.  These approaches can reduce average heating of the Earth’s surface rapidly (in less than a year), at shockingly low direct cost (thousands of times cheaper than achieving the same cooling by cutting emissions), but appear to provide only highly imperfect correction of the environmental disruptions – climatic and non-climatic – caused by elevated greenhouse gases.  They thus offer the prospect of either substantial reductions, or substantial increases, in environmental and related policy and political risks.  This dual prospect, depending on details of whether, how, when, and by whom these technologies are used, poses challenges to international law and governance that are both severe and novel.  No current treaty or institution controls them, or appears well suited to addressing their linked scientific, operational, and security challenges.   Despite large uncertainties in the characteristics, environmental effects, and risks of specific potential interventions, certain clear and emerging characteristics of these technologies suggest broad outlines of the policy and political risks they pose, the requirements for effective governance, and priority near-term steps to limit risks and learn more.

About the Speaker

Edward A. (Ted) Parson is Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles.  His research examines international environmental law and policy, the role of science and technology in public policy, and the political economy of regulation.  Parson's articles have appeared in Nature, Science, Climatic Change, Issues in Science and Technology, the Journal of Economic Literature, and the Annual Review of Energy and the Environment.  His books include The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change, and the award-winning Protecting the Ozone Layer: Science and Strategy.

Parson has led and served on multiple senior advisory committees, and has worked in policy and advisory positions in the governments of the United States and Canada, and in international and non-governmental organizations.  He served on the scientific organizing committee for the 2010 Asilomar conference on climate intervention, and led the working group on institutional mechanisms for the 2011 Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative, convened by the UK Royal Society, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Academy of Sciences of the Developing World (TWAS).

He holds degrees in Physics from the University of Toronto and in Management Science from the University of British Columbia, and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from Harvard, where he spent twelve years on the faculty of the Kennedy School of Government.  From 2003 to 2012 he was on the faculty of the University of Michigan, where he was Joseph L. Sax Collegiate Professor of Law and Professor of Natural Resources & Environment.