The success of the Paris Agreement on climate change may rely on the extensive deployment of controversial ideas for removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. This panel examines the politics of these large-scale 'negative emissions' technologies and the roles for STS scholars in studying them.
The Paris Agreement on climate change has set out global commitments to keeping global warming well below 2°C above preindustrial levels and to aim for limiting the rise to 1.5°C. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that meeting these targets is possible - but nearly all of their scenarios rely on the extensive deployment of large-scale technologies that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere but do not currently exist (as complete socio-technical systems). Critics have argued that assumptions about when such 'negative emissions' technologies might be ready and how they might be deployed at an impactful scale are desperately optimistic. Much like their taxonomic cousins, geoengineering by reflecting sunlight back into space, negative emissions ideas are also deeply controversial, potentially propping up carbon capitalism, making sweeping changes to land-use and posing significant environmental risks. This panel seeks to explore the politics of these prospective negative emissions technologies and what they imply for our changing relationship with nature in the age of the Anthropocene. We ask: what political imaginaries and interests are co-produced with negative emissions ideas in climate models, experiments and policies? How might research, development and deployment of carbon removal be governed responsibly where power relations and socio-technical systems are co-evolving? What are the implications for power, knowledge and politics of (discursive) decoupling of carbon removal from other forms of geoengineering? How does negative emissions politics compare to other technoscientific politics? What should our roles as STS scholars be when engaging with negative emissions?
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Public perceptions of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage under different policy instrument framings
There is a growing need to responsibly incentivise research and development into negative emissions technologies by accounting for public values. We describe an experimental deliberative method designed to explore how public perceptions might change under different policy instrument framings.
The Paris Agreement on climate change has set out near universal ambitions to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5°C. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that this is possible, but nearly all of their scenarios rely on the extensive deployment of negative emissions technologies - principally bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). Despite growing recognition of the likely need for BECCS, it is far from resembling the sort of complete sociotechnical system - assemblage of technical artefacts and social arrangements - that would be needed for deployment. There is therefore a clear need to responsibly incentivise research and development into BECCS with policy instruments. The key to responsibly incentivising BECCS lies in accounting for public values. We convened a one-day deliberative workshop in Oxford, UK, with 30 politically diverse and sociodemographically representative citizens to explore how public perceptions of BECCS - and of climate change itself - might change under different policy instrument framings. We operationalised a three-fold typology of policy instruments to generate three framing conditions: 'coercive', 'supportive' and 'persuasive'. The workshop was composed of several sessions designed to quantitatively measure and qualitatively explore how public perceptions of BECCS and climate change might alter under the different framings. We found that policy instruments that were not congruent with participants' political values lowered the acceptability of BECCS. We conclude by exploring the prospects for developing policy instrument mixes that appeal to plural political worldviews.
The geopolitics of negative emissions
In this article, we scrutinize several NETs through the analytical lens of geopolitics, asking which geopolitical challenges and potential consequences their large scale deployment would have.
Negative emissions technologies (NETs) have garnered increasing interest in recent years, in particular following the 2015 UNFCCC Paris Agreement and the most recent IPCC Assessment Report. In this article, we apply the analytical lens of geopolitics to answer the following research question: Which geopolitical challenges and potential consequences would the large scale deployment of NETs have? As this question cannot be answered completely yet - as NETs have, so far, not been deployed on a large scale - we turn to the two cases of Renewable Energies (RE) and REDD+ for answers. The two cases share important similarities with various types of NET which we exploit in order to gain a first answer to our research question. We find that, first, various NETs would have a classic geopolitical impact due to their requirements of territory. Second, the material requirements of various NETs might also impact geopolitical constellations, providing certain countries and regions of the world with new leverage in the case of large scale deployment. Third, the discursive construction of space and identity which would take place in the wake of large-scale use might lead to very interesting new conflict patterns in its own right.
Carbon removal from below: understanding tensions between discourses of drawdown versus negative emissions
While "negative emissions" have appeared as an artifact of global modeling, there is also a current of popular discourse on carbon removal, marked by a narrative of regeneration, drawdown, and reversing climate change. This paper looks at the politics enabled by these different conceptualizations.
The academic and policy literature on "negative emissions" is emerging at the same time as grassroots groups are becoming engaged around reversing climate change, yet these two emerging literatures are rarely in conversation. Both the high-level and grassroots communities understand the problem in a consonant way — the need to draw down carbon concentrations — yet there are some differences in interpreting the science, as well as the possibilities for achieving this goal. For example, community advocates tend to be focused on regenerative agriculture and soil carbon sequestration, while people thinking about negative emissions state a need for CCS, and in many cases, appraisals of what is possible or realistic are widely divergent. Drawing from semi-structured interviews, this paper looks at the tensions between the top-down literature on negative emissions and the bottom-up discourse on reversing climate change. It looks at some reasons why different actors are appraising these techniques so differently, and analyzes the ways the academic and citizen communities understand the politics of carbon removal.
The politics and publics of Enhanced Weathering for carbon sequestration
We present a series of expert interviews and a cross-national survey of lay publics, on the ethics and acceptability of negative emissions proposals such as Enhanced Weathering. We explore their potential role in future social and political systems, and the factors likely to shape public responses.
Social and ethical concerns over various Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs) cannot easily be homogenised, therefore it is useful to focus specific attention on particular technology proposals, whilst simultaneously remembering to put them in context with a range of other climate strategies. This project examines the ethics and acceptability of Enhanced Weathering, a technique which would involve amending soils of managed croplands with crushed rocks in order to accelerate their chemical breakdown and sequester CO2. Enhanced Weathering is a technology at a very early stage of development, meaning that little is currently known about its efficacy, impacts, or social acceptability.
We examine Enhanced Weathering in the context of other NETs such as Direct Air Capture, BECCS and afforestation. We are particularly interested in their potential role in future social and political systems, and especially the role of lay publics. Previous work has shown that for novel technologies, 'upstream engagement' with non-experts can be highly effective at identifying issues and risks which might have been overlooked by scientists and developers. For the initial stage of this project, we have interrogated the perspectives of both NET 'experts' (by interviewing senior stakeholders from a range of sectors) and lay publics (by conducting a large cross-national survey of publics in the UK, US and Australia). This presentation will present the results from these two streams of enquiry, in order to begin to understand the factors likely to shape future public responses to Enhanced Weathering and NETs, and to capture the character of public concerns.
Perspectives on the science and politics of negative emissions in integrated assessment models
In this paper, we engage members of IAM groups involved in the creation of low emissions pathways, as well as critical experts from a variety of disciplines, in order to gauge shared or diverging understandings on the shaping role of modeling scenarios in policy-relevant scientific assessments
Negative emissions technologies (NETs) - in particular BECCS - have emerged as a speculative but sustained research agenda, exemplified by their inclusion in integrated assessment modeling (IAMs) in low emissions pathways (RCP2.6 in AR5). Already, this artifact underpins the UNFCCC Paris Agreement's 2C target. Critics - most of them non-modelers - argue that the scale of NETs in modeling unjustifiably props up low climate targets with unproven technologies; bringing the intents, processes, results, and transparency of integrated assessment modeling in IPCC assessments, as well as the role of the climate IAM community, into question. In this paper, we undertake interviews amongst members of the IAM modeling groups involved in the creation of low emissions pathways. We supplement and contrast their responses with those of experts of a variety of disciplines in the role of modeling activities in policy-relevant scientific assessments. Our intent is, firstly, to generate qualitative data that will reveal shared or diverging understandings that underpin how members of modeling and other research communities conceive of the shaping role of modeling scenarios in climate change assessment and policy, and secondly, to put these understandings into conversation with each other. By engaging directly with integrated assessment modelers as a community of practice whose work revolves around forward-looking assessments under conditions of uncertainty, the process of exploring future pathways for addressing climate change can be subjected to critical reflection.
Conceptual vs. actual use of Greenhouse Gas Removal
Critical analysis of Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR) has focused on the consequences of actually deploying proposed technologies. As policymakers start to accept the challenge of generating negative emissions, the focus should shift to the conceptual use of GGR in national/regional mitigation pathways
Critical analysis of Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR) has so far mainly focused on the (negative) consequences of actually deploying proposed technologies at the large-scale envisaged in global Integrated Assessment Models (IAM), e.g. by scrutinising the assumed delivery of 600-800 gigatonnes of negative emissions via Bioenergy and Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), which would require 500+ million hectares of additional land (= 1.5 times the land area of India)
As policymakers start to accept the challenge of generating negative emissions, the focus should shift from the 'actual' to the 'conceptual' use of GGR in national/regional mitigation pathways. Long before proposed technologies will be deployed on a meaningful scale, this deployment will be assumed in long-term national/regional climate policy planning, supported, for example, by the integration of GGR technologies into national/regional energy systems modelling.
Looking at the climate science/policy/politics interface in the European Union (EU), we explore possible ways of using negative emissions conceptually, long before their potential deployment. Introducing GGR into regional/national policy planning generates a significant amount of additional flexibility, allowing to shifting burdens between generations, countries or sectors. We show how this kind of flexibility can be attractive for both climate policy laggards and (relative) pioneers and how it therefore seems unavoidable that this new kind of national/regional 'target and trajectory gaming' will evolve into a standard practice in EU climate policymaking.
The techno-politics of negative emissions
Using negative emissions technologies as a case study, this presentation examines the ways in which the material forms and discursive promises of technologies reframe politics, reshape political interests, and in turn are reconstituted in new forms - or techno-political systems.
Using negative emissions technologies as a working case study, this presentation examines the ways in which the material forms and discursive promises of technologies reframe politics, reshape political interests, and in turn are reconstituted in new forms, thus understanding technologies as techno-political systems. We are especially interested in the risk of NETs deterring mitigation, and thus mechanisms whereby the prospect of a technology may reduce or delay other actions aiming at providing similar benefits. Having identified technical failure, cognitive biases and bounded economic rationalities as possible contributing mechanisms to mitigation deterrence, we explore conceptually how those mechanisms can be better understood through the lens of cultural political economy as a product of the iteration of technological fixes and political regimes.
We draw on expert interviews, and on a literature review of potential analogues for NETs in which technological advances or policy interventions have generated (or seem likely to generate) the kind of perverse outcomes discussed above. The analogues include waste incineration, and solar radiation management. We explore the possible evolutions of a selection of NETs (including BECCS, Direct Air Capture and Soil Carbon Enhancement), given the conceptual examination of deterrence mechanisms, and in the light of the ways in which the category of NETs as such is constituted as a novel actor and a promise in climate politics
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.