Nov. 27, 2019

What's wrong with geoengineering climate change?

Professor Anna-Maria Hubert's research lands a Peak Scholar nod from UCalgary
Earth & Northern Lights
Geoengineering refers to large-scale interventions in Earth systems to offset climate change

Researchers have been coming up with some pretty interesting ideas on how to slow down climate change. From sucking carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases out of the air, to shooting particles in the stratosphere to reduce the amount of the sun’s heat from reaching Earth.

But have you ever stopped to think about the potentially negative effects these ideas may have in our quest to abate climate change?

These questions are ones Anna-Maria Hubert, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Law, is looking to provide guidance on with her Geoengineering Research Governance Project (GRGP), for which she recently received recognition as a Peak Scholar from the University of Calgary.

According to The Royal Society, geoengineering refers to large-scale interventions in Earth systems to offset climate change. For Hubert, it is something that requires norms and guidelines to ensure we are not doing more harm than good. It is also a matter that should not just be left to scientists and other experts to determine, but instead requires broad input from different sectors of society so that research and development in this field proceeds in an effective, fair, and democratically accountable way.

“The GRGP is an interdisciplinary collaboration with the University of Oxford and Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Germany,” explains Hubert, principal investigator of the project. “Our primary goal is to understand how legal frameworks can evolve to meet the challenges posed by technologies planned for deliberate large-scale interventions in natural systems in the face of dangerous climate change.”

One of the more innovative research outputs of the project was the development of a draft Code of Conduct for Responsible Geoengineering Research, which aims to provide guidance for governments, international bodies, and scientists and other actors who are interested doing their own field experiments or who are looking to develop and implement new laws and policies in this field of science.

The project is an important example of how knowledge translation, implementation and engagement can transform law and policy, and the Code of Conduct has already received significant attention from several international bodies and government agencies, most recently being presented to a U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee studying these issues. 

“In addition to more practical policy contributions with this project, we are also trying to develop more conceptual legal thinking around the role of science and technology in the protection of the environment,” says Hubert.

For example, Hubert’s work looks at the role of human rights and how they interact with science and technology in international environmental law. She has a forthcoming article in the European Journal of International Law which explores the so-called “right to science” recognizing the right of everyone enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications.

Hubert will continue to publish research based on the work done in the GRGP, and to present the Code of Conduct at conferences, workshops and policy meetings to receive feedback and implement further improvements.

“It’s so important to continue these discussions and seek to understand issues related to geoengineering and its governance in all of their complexity,” says Hubert. “But my hope is that our project will help to advance thinking and scholarship on matters related to the regulation of science and technology more broadly.”

Anna-Maria Hubert

Anna-Maria Hubert was named a 2019 Peak Scholar

About Peak Scholars

Each year, deans are invited to nominate scholars from their faculty who have demonstrated excellence in startup ventures, commercialization, knowledge or technology transfer, community engagement, social innovation or research collaboration. Peak Scholars has been held annually since 2014, and has now recognized over 200 scholars at the University of Calgary.