Climate Change: A Coordinated Strategy Could Focus Federal Geoengineering Research and Inform Governance Efforts

GAO-10-903 Published: Sep 23, 2010. Publicly Released: Oct 26, 2010.
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Policymakers have raised questions about geoengineering--large-scale deliberate interventions in the earth's climate system to diminish climate change or its impacts--and its role in a broader strategy of mitigating and adapting to climate change. Most geoengineering proposals fall into two categories: carbon dioxide removal (CDR), which would remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, and solar radiation management (SRM), which would offset temperature increases by reflecting sunlight back into space. GAO was asked to examine (1) the state of geoengineering science, (2) federal involvement in geoengineering, and (3) the views of experts and federal officials about the extent to which federal laws and international agreements apply to geoengineering, and any governance challenges. GAO examined relevant scientific and policy studies, relevant domestic laws and international agreements, analyzed agency data describing relevant research for fiscal years 2009 and 2010, and interviewed federal officials and selected recognized experts in the field.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Science and Technology Policy The appropriate entities within the Executive Office of the President (EOP), such as the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), in consultation with relevant federal agencies, should develop a clear, defined, and coordinated approach to geoengineering research in the context of a federal strategy to address climate change that (1) defines geoengineering for federal agencies; (2) leverages existing resources by having federal agencies collect information and coordinate federal research related to geoengineering in a transparent manner; and if the administration decides to establish a formal geoengineering research program, (3) sets clear research priorities to inform decision-making and future governance efforts.
Closed – Not Implemented
The federal government has not established a coordinated governmentwide geoengineering program or developed a strategic plan for such a program. Existing climate-related strategic planning documents, including the President's June 2013 Climate Action Plan and the the United States Global Change Research Program's (USGCRP) April 2012 strategic plan do not address geoengineering.

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