Advancing Solar Geoengineering Governance: Key Developments in EU & US Policy Frameworks

Guest post by Anthony Calacino, a PhD Candidate at UT-Austin, in which he reflects upon recent steps by the US and EU into exploring solar geoengineering. He examines three significant aspects related to the advancement of solar geoengineering policy, along with the notable differences in the US and EU approaches.

Amidst severe climate change and scorching temperatures in an already record-breaking 2023, the need for radical measures to address climate change has gained traction. Geoengineering, which involves deliberate modification of the planet, has for some time been considered a fringe idea, but is now receiving increased attention from policymakers. Recently, both the European Union and the United States have taken steps to develop policy frameworks for solar geoengineering in particular, which aims to reduce the planet’s solar energy absorption and mitigate the effects of climate change.

The EU Commission communicated a need for special consideration of the technology and a multilateral approach, while the White House published a report of the potential impacts of solar geoengineering, and outlined steps towards a federal research endeavor. The fact that both of these influential governing bodies have expressed support for exploring this controversial technology, despite the belief of many scientists that it should be completely banned, is highly noteworthy.

Other key developments

  • The recent US documentation sets the stage for a solar geoengineering research initiative and national policy, but the White House offered few details about how the government plans to mitigate risks or coordinate internationally. The US report outlines research priorities and identifies the US Global Change Research Program as the coordinating organization. These are significant steps, and if funding is approved by the US Congress (which requested the research plan), the groundwork seems to be set for a speedy launch.
  • The EU’s efforts are more preliminary. However, the EU Commission emphasizes its support for international efforts to advance the understanding and potential use of solar geoengineering. This is likely to encourage EU member countries to initiate coordinated research clusters within a larger multilateral framework. Although not as significant as the US’ recent moves, the EU’s signal is clear, and more specific policies will likely follow.

It is crucial to take note of three significant aspects related to the advancement of solar geoengineering policy, along with the notable differences in approaches between these two governing bodies. These issues hold particular relevance in the context of climate policy and international politics. Scholars should actively involve themselves in understanding and addressing these rapidly evolving circumstances.

The Allure of a Techno-Fix

The new frameworks from the US and EU threaten to undermine emissions reduction commitments and could profoundly reshape climate change negotiations. There is a concern that prioritizing technological solutions, known as the “techno-fix,” can overshadow the implementation of climate policies and the complex issues of distribution they entail. Policymakers are often drawn to the allure of relying on new technologies to address complex global problems. However, investing significant resources into unproven and uncertain solar radiation management (SRM) carries opportunity costs.

On these concerns, the EU at least stated that SRM be placed squarely within the wider goal of a green energy transition. The White House document should cause more concern. The document indicated a potential “risk vs. risk” approach, weighing the consequences of SRM against the effects of climate change, which are dire given the country’s slow progress in cutting emissions. This line of reasoning suggests the possibility of policy substitution, and raises concerns about the potential for SRM and other geoengineering endeavors to become the focus more so than comprehensive emissions reductions.

Continued US Unilateralism and Challenges to Multilateralism

The second issue pertains to the concern over the US’ inclination towards unilateralism, coupled with the ambiguous global response to the EU’s calls for multilateralism. As previously emphasized by others, unilateralism could unleash catastrophic consequences upon our planet. These concerns are further accentuated by the recent communication from the White House, which only briefly mentions international cooperation, but largely omits serious calls for multilateralism. There does not seem to be significant interest in coordinating research efforts beyond vague commitments, with the White House simply calling for “research into the geopolitical ramifications.” The lack of seriousness on considering global political dynamics heightens the possibility of a geoengineering arms race, where continued US unilateralism could prompt countries like China to ramp up unilateral experimentation as well. Even in the research and development stage geoengineering poses grave risks to the planet.

There is also scant evidence indicating the potential success of a multilateral approach advocated by the EU. The global South faces enhanced risks from climate change, with countries like India grappling with a heightened risk of heat-related fatalities, and so we might assume that some nations would be supportive of solar geoengineering. However, it is improbable that many countries in the global South possess the technology or resources required to spearhead such endeavors, effectively endowing the EU and the US with substantial power over any international frameworks.

Reinforcing Uneven Political & Economic Systems

The third issue pertains to the risk of bolstering the political and economic systems that have played a significant role in contributing to the current climate crisis. In the absence of clearly defined rights and bargaining power within a multilateral governance initiative, the existing distribution of global power appears to be an unpromising foundation for fostering effective international cooperation on SRM. Consequently, less-resourced countries in the global South may be wary of joining international efforts.

Advancements on geoengineering primarily within the US and EU would centralize technology development and control, neglecting the global South. Furthermore, recent steps towards policy frameworks demonstrate a lack of emphasis on equitable development and technology transfers, with only a brief mention of an African Union partnership by the EU.

Apart from Mexico’s ban on solar geoengineering after an unlicensed experiment, there are few signs of policymaking in the global South on geoengineering. The uncertain multilateral approach by the EU and the emerging US framework suggest that international agreements on the rights and limitations of private actors are distant. This is alarming, as private firms may seek to conduct operations and experiments in jurisdictions with less stringent legal oversight, or ambiguous legal authority (e.g., international waters). There are enormous ecological and social risks of private geoengineering initiatives without strict, coordinated governance.


Though solar geoengineering may become a centerpiece of climate change mitigation in the coming years, the recent steps taken by the US and EU separately towards crafting relevant policies should spark concern. The executive leadership of both governments are clearly uninterested in an outright ban on solar geoengineering, yet the potential alternatives proposed have serious shortcomings in a crisis filled, increasingly complex global political order. There is a need to understand how geoengineering technology may upend international politics on climate change, as well as how ideas of justice and a ‘just transition’ may be affected as approaches like solar geoengineering go mainstream. Overall, more scholarship is needed to understand the geoengineering, geopolitics, and inequality nexus unfolding before us.

Bio: Anthony Calacino is a PhD Candidate in the Government Department at the University of Texas at Austin, specializing in the political economy of environmental disasters. His research focuses on the significance of state and business relations in both creating and responding to environmental catastrophes. As a former Fulbright recipient, in his dissertation, Anthony explores the emergence and decline of the environmental state in the global South, using Brazil as a compelling case study. He challenges the prevailing notion that globalization is generally responsible for trends in environmental state capacity, and instead emphasizes the importance of domestic politics and elite competition.

Twitter: @AnthonyCalacino

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