Counter-geoengineering is the idea that a country might seek or threaten to counteract the cooling effect of solar geoengineering through technical means. Although this concept has been mentioned with increasing frequency in commentary on geoengineering, it has received little scholarly attention. We offer a preliminary analysis. We begin by distinguishing two kinds of counter-geoengineering: countervailing with a warming agent, and neutralising with a physical disruption. Based on this distinction, we review prior suggestions and describe novel methods by which either method might be accomplished, within the constraints imposed by deep technical uncertainties and substantial technical challenges. We then reflect on the strategic requirements and motivations for developing counter geoengineering and use a simple game-theoretic framework to demonstrate how counter-geoengineering might interact with the free-driver dynamic of solar geoengineering to shape climate geopolitics. We find that any state that could credibly threaten counter-geoengineering would effectively have a veto over the use of solar geoengineering, which could reduce the prospects of unilateral deployment. Alternatively, the development of geoengineering and countergeoengineering capabilities could lead to dangerous brinkmanship. We conclude that the development of counter-geoengineering would face considerable practical obstacles and would signal continuing political failure to manage climate risks on a cooperative basis.
Proposed large-scale intentional interventions in natural systems in order to counter climate change, typically called “climate engineering” or “geoengineering,” stand to dramatically alter the international politics of climate change and potentially much more. There is currently a significant and growing literature on the international politics of climate engineering. However, it has been produced primarily by scholars from outside the discipline of International Relations (IR). We are concerned that IR scholars are missing a critical opportunity to offer insights into, and perhaps help shape, the emerging international politics of climate engineering. To that end, the primary goal of this paper is to call the attention of the IR community to these developments. Thus, we offer here an overview of the existing literature on the international politics of climate engineering and a preliminary assessment of its strengths and lacunae. We trace several key themes in this corpus, including problem structure, the concern that climate engineering could undermine emissions cuts, the potentially “slippery slope” of research and development, unilateral implementation, interstate conflict, militarization, rising tensions between industrialized and developing countries, and governance challenges and opportunities. The international politics of climate engineering is then considered through the lenses of the leading IR theories (Realism, Institutionalism, Liberalism, and Constructivism), exploring both what they have contributed and possible lines of future inquiry. Disciplinary IR scholars should have much to say on a number of topics related to climate engineering, including its power and transformational potentials, the possibility of counter-climate engineering, issues of institutional design, international law, and emergent practices. We believe that it is incumbent on the IR community, whose defining focus is international relations, to turn its attention to these unprecedented technologies and to the full scope of possible ramifications they might have for the international system.