What Are the Geopolitical Risks of Geoengineering?

The prospect of using geoengineering to address the accelerating effects of climate change is becoming more likely, and many of the potential technologies have negative externalities on the global to regional scale. In this Perspective, the authors review the state of different geoengineering technologies, highlighting differences in technological development stage, price, time scales, and potential secondary effects. They discuss the geopolitical risks that may be introduced by geoengineering implementation. Given the many serious risks that geoengineering poses, they conclude by examining whether existing international governance mechanisms manage the geopolitical risks associated with geoengineering.

This Perspective draws on a review of the relevant technical, international relations, and international law literature, as well as a scenario-development workshop in which 24 academic research experts on climate policy, international relations, and international law considered the geopolitical risks of geoengineering and the role of international legal mechanisms in the management of these geopolitical risks. The workshop was conducted virtually in two three-hour sessions over two days. This Perspective and the recommendations contained herein should be of interest to decisionmakers and policymakers in the area of climate risk management.

Funding for this project was provided by the generous contributions of the RAND Center for Global Risk and Security (CGRS) Advisory Board. This work was conducted within the RAND Center for Global Risk and Security.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation perspective series. RAND perspectives present informed perspective on a timely topic that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND perspectives undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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