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Geoengineering: The Social and Ethical Issues


Since the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), responses to address climate change have until recently fallen within two major groups of strategies (IPCC 2007):

  • mitigation measures, which comprise all human activities to reduce emissions or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, and
  • adaptation measures, which include any adjustments made to natural or human systems in response to actual or expected impacts of climate change, with the aim of moderating harm or exploiting beneficial opportunities.

Over the last few years, however, geoengineering, or the ‘deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system in order to moderate global warming’ (The Royal Society 2009, 1), has attracted increasing attention among strategies to limit the impact and consequences of climate change.

The understanding of the physical science basis of geoengineering is still limited, and there are still major uncertainties concerning the impacts these technologies might have on human and natural systems. Thus, there is widespread agreement on the need to consider the far-reaching ethical and social questions that geoengineering proposals entail.

In this context, the main objective of this project is to develop an analytical framework that can contribute to a better understanding of the social and ethical issues raised by geoengineering technologies. It is expected that this framework can be used as the basis for further analysis with a view to developing and implementing appropriate governance mechanisms to steer both geoengineering research and deployment.



International treaties/instruments relevant to geoengineering research, regulation and deployment:

o        The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948, along with related covenants;

o        The Outer Space Treaty, 1967

o        The Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD), 1977

o        The Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP),1979

o        The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), 1982

o        The Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer (1985) and The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (1987)

o        The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (1991)

o        The Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo), 1991

o        The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR Convention), 1992

o        The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 1992;

o        The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992;

o        The Rio Declaration on the Environment and Development, 1992;

o        Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter(London Convention, 1972) and London Protocol (1996);

o        The UNESCO Declaration on the Responsibilities of the Present Generations Towards Future Generations, 1997;

o        The Kyoto Protocol, 1997;

o        The European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, as signed and proclaimed by the Presidents of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission at the European Council meeting in Nice on 7 December 2000. Link:

o        The Earth Charter, 2000, as recognized by the UNESCO General Conference;

o        The Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development, 2002;

o        The Geoengineering Moratorium under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity , 2010.

o        Directive 2009/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2009 on the geological storage of carbon dioxide and amending Council Directive 85/337/EEC, European Parliament and Council Directives 2000/60/EC, 2001/80/EC, 2004/35/EC, 2006/12/EC, 2008/1/EC and Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006 Link:

o        European Parliament resolution of 29 September 2011 on developing a common EU position ahead of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20)


Upcoming events: There are no upcoming events

Past events:

[1] Curvelo, P. (November, 2012) “Ethical Perspectives on Geoengineering: A Narrative Approach”, The fourth International Conference on Science in Society, November 15-17, 2012, University of California, Berkeley, USA. URL:

[2] Curvelo, P. (2012) "What is new in Geoengineering?". 4S/EASST conference 2012, October 17-20 Copenhagen, Denmark. URL:

[3] Curvelo, P. (July, 2012) "Towards an Analytical Framework for Evaluating the Ethical Dimensions of Geoengineering Proposals". The Fourth International Conference on Climate Change, University of Washington, Seattle, USA, 12‐ 13 July 2012. URL:

[4] Curvelo, P. (2012) ‘Questioning the Geoengineering Scientific Worldview”, Seventh International Conference on Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Universidad Abat Oliba CEU, Barcelona, Spain, 25-28 June 2012 URL:

 [5] Curvelo, P. (2012), “The plausibility of Geoengineering Imag[in]ing”, Ethics, Plausibility and Innovation, European Commission-Joint Research Centre, Ispra, 10-11 May 2012.

 [6] Curvelo, P. (2012), “Towards an Ethical Framework for Climate Geoengineering”, Planet Under Pressure, London, 26-29 March 2012.

 [7] Curvelo, P. (2011), “Workshop: Exploring the Ethics of Geoengineering through Images”, Second International Conference on the Image, Kursaal Congress Palace, San Sebastian, Spain, 26‐27 September 2011.

 [8] Curvelo, P. (2010) “Ethical Questions on Geoengineering”. Conference ‘From Informed Consent to No Consent? The Challenges of New Ethical Frameworks’, Tartu, Estonia, November 4-6, 2010.


[1]  Curvelo, Paula (Forthcoming), “Towards an Analytical Framework for Evaluating the Ethical Dimensions of Geoengineering Proposals”. The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses.  

[2] Curvelo, Paula and Pereira, A. G. (Forthcoming) “Geoengineering: reflections on current debates”, The International Journal of Science in Society.

[3]  Curvelo, Paula (2013), “Questioning the Geoengineering Scientific Worldview”. The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies. [Electronic version] URL 

[4] Curvelo, Paula (2012), “Exploring the Ethics of Geoengineering through Images”. The International Journal of the Image 2 (2), pp. 177–198. [Electronic Version] URL:



       Betz, G. (2012). The case for climate engineering research: An analysis of the "arm the future" argument. Climatic Change, 111(2), 473-485.

       Betz, G., & Cacean, S. (2012). Ethical Aspects of Climate Engineering. Karlsruhe: KIT Scientific Publishing.

       Corner, A., & Pidgeon, N. (2010). Geoengineering the climate: The social and ethical implications. Environment, 52(1), 24-37.

       Gardiner, S. M. (2010). Is ‘arming the future’ with geoengineering really the lesser evil? Some doubts about the ethics of intentionally manipulating the climate system. In S. M. Gardiner, S. Caney, D. Jamieson & H. Shue (Eds.), Climate Ethics, Essential Readings (pp. 284-312). New York: Oxford University Press.

       Gardiner, S. M. (2011). A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change: Oxford University Press.

       Hamilton, C. (2011). The Ethical Foundations of Climate Engineering Retrieved from

       Jamieson, D. (1996). Ethics and Intentional Climate Change. Climatic Change, 33, 323-336.

       Jamieson, D. (2009a). Climate Change, Responsibility, and Justice Science and Engineering Ethics, 16(2), 431-445.

       Jamieson, D. (2009b). The Ethics of Geoengineering People and Place 1(2). Retrieved from

       Preston, C. J. (Ed.). (2012). Engineering the Climate: The Ethics of Solar Radiation Management: Lexington Books.

       Rayner, Steve, Clare Heyward, Tim Kruger, Nick Pidgeon, Catherine Redgwell, and Julian Savulescu. 2013. The Oxford Principles. Climatic Change:1-14. doi: 10.1007/s10584-012-0675-2.

       Rickels, W., Klepper, G., Dovern, J., Betz, G., Brachatzek, N., Cacean, S., et al. (2011). Large-Scale Intentional Interventions into the Climate System? Assessing the Climate Engineering Debate. Scoping report conducted on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Kiel: Kiel Earth Institute.

       Schneider, S. H. (1996). Geoengineering: Could— or should— we do it? Climatic Change, 33(3), 291-302.


mobGAS© : Knowing your contribution to climate



The mobGAS 2.0 © mobile application enables the daily calculation of the greenhouse effect gas emission by usage of transports, appliances, hygiene habits, food and even leisure activities. It aims to make the connection between daily activities and the emission of Greenhouse Gasses and when possible suggest changes to improve individual performances.

With this application it is possible to monitor the emissions of each day in order to lead users to a more comprehensive analysis of the impact that some actions have on the environment. Therefore, the user can see the results of the calculations done by the application and even send them to a centralized data storage that can be web accessed to have an even more exhaustive view on the emissions calculation.

To help the users to achieve a better usage of its appliances and habits, it is possible to see tips regarding each kind of habit/appliance. Users can gather in communities and visualize geographically their impact.



The European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) has developed mobGAS© - a new mobile application that indicates how much our daily activities contribute to Climate Change (CC).

mobGAS© can help raising awareness and stimulate the debate among European citizens on the fact that CC is not a remote issue and that each individual can contribute to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by adopting small changes in their daily lives. mobGAS aims to make the connection between daily activities and the emissions of GHGs and when possible suggest changes to improve individual performances. It is a kind of diary of users’ behaviour through the emissions of GHGs.



mobGAS© embeds new concepts of communication of science to non-scientific audience, integrating natural sciences and social behaviours in a tangible way.

With mobGAS©, citizens can relate their lifestyle, first with the emissions of gases and later with their impact in the environment.

The mobGAS© aim is not just educational or to be a part of an awareness exercise, but empowerment on sustainability issues and corresponding responsibility, thus enhancing the governance process.

mobGAS© deals with the uncertainty inherent to CC and with modelling uncertainties.

To face these kinds of uncertainties a number of Quality Issues were considered:

• quality of information: reliability of sources, outline of data uncertainty and ignorance

• quality of the science used: outline of uncertainty of modelling, transparency of the calculation core

• quality of the user interface, concepts and software operation: intuitive, easy to use, aiming at non-scientific audiences

mobGAS© is built upon previous experiences such as VGAS© extending its functionalities and proposing a different type of interface.

Such tools are deemed necessary to show how CC is not a scientific abstraction, but a relevant issue related to human activities.

Models such as in mobGAS© and VGAS© aim at providing the basis from which individual choices and their effects at a larger scale can be linked. For instance, energy demand can be assessed at point of use, at a regional level (share of the regional/national power generation system) or at a global level (global energy policies).

Thus, the awareness is evinced that, regardless of the scale at which energy demand is evaluated, the effects of choices will eventually have impacts at the aggregated levels.


mobGAS© was initially developed for the 27 EU countries, and available in 21 languages.



SETICS recommends:

T. de Souza Pedrosa,  Â. Guimarães Pereira, P. Rosa; 2008; “Mobgas© disclosed model”; European Commission; JRC 45569; EUR 23379 EN; ISBN 978-92-79-09036-3; ISSN 1018-5593; DOI 10.2788/77788




The application mobGAS 2.0 © will be soon available for download at:



Transdisciplinary approach to the Emerging CHallenges of NOvel technologies: Lifeworld and Imaginaries in Foresight and Ethics" is a project funded by the European Union under the Seventh Framework Programme for Research, Technological Development and Demonstration (FP7)



Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are increasingly becoming more pervasive of peoples lives, both for individual and collective usage. Hence, it becomes tempting to develop electronic tools that can constitute alternatives to enhance citizenship, in particular tools that can be used in the context of societal debates of public policies.