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Ethical Risks of Climate Engineering

GS Paper 4

 Syllabus: Applications of Ethics

 Context: Ahead of COP28, UNESCO’s first-ever report on the Ethics of Climate Engineering emphasizes the risks and opportunities of climate manipulation technologies.


About the report:

The report has been published by UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST). COMEST is an advisory body and forum of reflection set up by UNESCO in 1998.


What is Climate Engineering?

Climate engineering, also known as geoengineering, involves deliberate modifications to the Earth’s natural systems to mitigate climate change effects. It includes techniques like Carbon Dioxide Removal (Building large-scale infrastructure to capture and store carbon emissions from industrial processes) and Solar Radiation Modification (Injecting aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight, thereby cooling the Earth’s surface temperature) to alter carbon levels and sunlight reflection.


Ethical Concerns in Climate Engineering:

Concerns Description
Undermining Climate Policies Potential risk of climate engineering diverting resources from crucial emission reduction and adaptation efforts.
Economic Inequalities The high costs of developing and deploying these technologies may exacerbate global economic inequalities.
Slippery Slope It could facilitate the acceleration toward deployment without any ethical framework e.g., it impacts biodiversity, and the ecosystem.
Moral Hazard It could provide polluters with an excuse to not reduce the use of fossil fuels.
Military or Geo-political Use Geoengineering tools may be exploited for military or geopolitical purposes, necessitating strengthened global governance efforts.
Knowledge Gaps and Uncertainties Lack of comprehensive understanding and potential chain reactions pose risks to humans, the ocean, temperature, and biodiversity.
Dependency and Phase-out Challenges Creating a dependency on these technologies raises questions about when and how to phase them out, impacting climate actions.
Transboundary Impact Countries must consider the potential transboundary impacts of their climate engineering decisions.



  1. Legal Regulation: States should introduce legislation regulating climate engineering to prevent harm.
  2. Ethical Research Standards: Scientific research must adhere to ethical standards consistent with international law.
  3. Transboundary Impact Consideration: Countries must assess and consider the transboundary impact of their climate engineering decisions.
  4. Global Governance Collaboration: Open and responsible collaboration between countries is crucial for effective global governance of climate engineering.
  5. Inclusive Decision-Making: Marginalized communities impacted by climate disruption should be fully considered and involved in climate engineering policies.



The current intergovernmental discussions during COP28 must cover the ethical aspects of climate engineering so that they align with ethical frameworks and Paris Agreement commitments.


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Do you think that climate engineering is a good strategy to overcome the challenges posed by global warming? State ethical concerns related to it.