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Tackling Climate Change: Where Can the Generic Framework Be Located?

Matthias Honegger, Kushini Sugathapala, Axel Michaelowa


International negotiations on climate change under the UNFCCC are increasingly burdened by the gap between low political will to engage in emissions mitigation and the level of mitigation required for limiting warming to 2°C. Given the growing understanding that mitigation will be insufficient, adaptation has recently gained in importance – a step sometimes seen as a portent of other actions on climate yet to come such as climate engineering. Existing international treaties such as the Convention on Biodiversity or the London Convention limit climate engineering interventions but do not provide clear guidance for acceptable solutions. Given their objectives – preserving biodiversity and the integrity of oceans – are jeopardised by insufficient action on climate change, they should become more specific in this regard and avoid conflicts with other conventions. The UNFCCC could pursue any approach in line with the overarching principle in Article 2 of the Convention – to achieve “stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. An interpretation beyond reductions of anthropogenic emissions could include climate engineering in form of carbon removal and radiation management technologies: The former can directly contribute to the stabilisation of greenhouse gases. The latter could help to limit indirect emissions from e.g. melting permafrost soils, and reduce the risks from higher level of greenhouse gas concentrations. Some climate engineering researchers argue against expanding the UNFCCC’s scope. As it is the only significant framework mandated to prevent dangerous climate change, we argue that it can, should, and is likely to become the forum to govern the use of climate engineering technologies.


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