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2021 Conference of the ECPR Standing Group on Politics and Gender

“In Case of Emergency Press Here:” Geo-Engineering as Response to Dangerous Climate Change

Nils Markusson
University of Oxford
Nils Markusson
University of Oxford

This paper offers an inter-disciplinary scrutiny of issues arising from the framing of geoengineering as a response to climate emergencies. Frequently, geoengineering is framed as a response to climate emergencies, emphasising its expected viable deployment speed. As several studies of geoengineering have shown, even when not directly articulated, this ‘emergency logic’ remains in the background as a master narrative.

The paper analyses how the term ‘climate emergency’ can be defined scientifically and contrasts this with lay understandings, and suggests that ‘points of no return’ may be a less misleading terminology. The paper further contrasts the pre-emptive logic of the emergency framing of geoengineering with the precautionary logic that has been used to support climate mitigation, and suggests that pre-emptive style arguments are not conducive of transparent debate and policy making. With these arguments in mind, the paper scrutinises existing bodies of international law for their treatment of emergencies, especially how they legitimate action construed as ‘necessity’, and discusses if international law could – and should – be capable of regulating geoengineering as an emergency response.

Whilst recognising that dangerous, large-scale impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly difficult to avoid, the paper cautions against the invocation of emergency type arguments in policy making on climate change. Given the uncertain impacts of geoengineering deployment and the ensuing risk of the technology becoming the emergency, this paper illustrates the performativity of pre-emptive emergency reasoning.
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