International Security Politics and Climate Engineering (ISPACE)

‘Climate engineering’ is rising up the global agenda. Assessments based on technical rationales tend to overlook implications of the international context. In this project, with Olaf Corry (formerly of Copenhagen University, now at Leeds) I am exploring the security dynamics engendered by climate engineering, aiming to contribute to more realistic assessment of the political feasibility and desirability of such methods. 

The leading solar geoengineering proposal – ‘stratospheric aerosol injection’ (SAI) – would involve spraying reflective particulates into the stratosphere to ‘dim the sun’ and thereby reduce temperatures. Interest in SAI has increased in some quarters, partly as a response to rapid changes in polar ecosystems with potentially catastrophic impacts, and spreading declarations of a ‘climate emergency’. Experience from volcanic eruptions suggests that particles in the stratosphere may constitute a relatively fast-working and powerful policy lever, but SAI’s side-effects, on rainfall patterns for example, also imply considerable conflict-generation potential.

Little is currently clear about the security political dimensions of SAI. A landmark report noted ‘serious and complex governance issues which need to be resolved if geoengineering is ever to become an acceptable method for moderating climate change’ . Even keen proponents of SAI research warn that it ‘may prove as disruptive to the political order of the 21st century as nuclear weapons were for the 20th’. Potential concerns include: if SAI is deployed will there be conflict over who might do it and to what ends? What role would military interests play in planetary temperature modification infrastructure? Would the prospect of intentional intervention in the climate in itself exacerbate international tensions? And might proposals for SAI undermine international collaboration on climate change mitigation?

In this project we are deliberating with stakeholders from security, diplomatic, scientific and activist communities to explore the different conceptions and imaginaries of climate engineering that might inform and structure emerging political engagements with climate engineering research and development. We've already seen some dramatically contrasting imaginaries ...

ISPACE publications & media

“Our Way of Life is not up for Negotiation!”: Climate Interventions in the Shadow of ‘Societal Security,’ Duncan McLaren and Olaf Corry, Global Studies Quarterly, 2023

The Politics and Governance of Research into Solar Geoengineering, Duncan McLaren and Olaf Corry, WIRES Climate Change, 2021

Clash of Geofutures and the Remaking of Planetary Order: Faultlines underlying Conflicts over Geoengineering Governance, Duncan McLaren and Olaf Corry, Global Policy, 2021 

The Dangers of Mainstreaming Solar Geoengineering: A critique of the National Academies Report, Jennie Stephens, Prakash Kashwan, Duncan McLaren and Kevin Surprise, Environmental Politics, 2021.

Securitizing climate change can lead to more surveillance and eco-fascism. Interview with Duncan, The Real News Network, Dec 10th 2020

Geoengineering won't unlock the politics of climate change, Olaf Corry, Duncan McLaren and Nikolaj Kornbech, Open Democracy April 20th 2020

ISPACE is funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark

Pilot study (GEOPOLE) funded by Christopher Reynolds Foundation