(((((This is not necessarily a satirical issue brief. It was written in good faith.)))))

New reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) offer assessments and policy recommendations regarding two types of geo-engineering research: Solar Radiation Management (SRM), which involves reflecting some of the sun’s radiation back into space; and Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), which involves reducing the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Both approaches aim to cool down the planet in response to ongoing climate change.

Both reports rely on comprehensive literature reviews, interviews with senior scientists, science policy experts, and surveys of public opinion. Most participants view SRM and CDR technologies as legitimate options of last resort, for emergency use in the event of low-probability, catastrophic climate change. Because responsible climate engineering strategies could take 20 years to develop, both reports recommend immediate appropriations for a coordinated, national geo-engineering research agenda, beginning FY2013.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is uniquely equipped to administer such a program in collaboration with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The BPC report recommends an OSTP advisory commission composed of “natural scientists, engineers, social scientists, lawyers and others…to develop parameters for climate remediation research.” This commission would recommend an adequate budget “commensurate with the scale of the problem” to the OSTP Director, including funds for exploring social, ethical and legal dimensions of geo-engineering research.

Alternatively, the BPC report considers a less coordinated research agenda, without OSTP oversight, in which new funds are added to existing agency budgets for SRM and CDR research. This approach fulfils the minimum recommendations of both reports, but lacks the budgetary coherence and oversight of an OSTP/OMB partnership. OSTP oversight provides a much-needed platform for establishing international standards that can deter other nations from deploying geo-engineering technologies prematurely.

A third option is to increase funding for basic climate science (comprehensive environmental sensor networks, increased computer power, and other tools required for SRM and CDR technology assessments) without allocations for SRM and CDR research. This option ignores GAO-BCP expert opinion.

A coordinated program through OSTP/OMB is the best option; but expect intense debate. Recall that assessing and developing SRM and CDR technologies may take decades. Climate mitigation and adaptation remain top research priorities. Also, commitment to research is not a commitment to future deployment. OSTP oversight puts the US where it needs to be, in a position to set international standards that deter others from premature implementation of geo-engineering technologies.

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