Assessing the Mitigation Deterrence Effects of GGRs

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Lancaster Environment Centre


Greenhouse gas removal (GGR) technologies have the potential to help counter global warming by lowering the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. They might therefore be needed alongside mitigation technologies (e.g. solar panels) that help reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere in the first place. However, there is reason to think that the two kinds of technologies interact, and that GGRs might delay or deter the use of mitigation technologies in various ways. In fact, it is possible that even doing research about GGRs, even just talking about their potential, could have such a deterrence effect. In this way, effectively combining GGRs and mitigation technologies may be more difficult than often assumed.

And this matters, because current climate policy targets - necessary if we are to avoid dangerous climate change - are based on scenarios that rely on the promise of GGR technologies becoming available and being deployed at large scale. They also rely on the (implicit) assumption that there will not be a substantive mitigation deterrence effect. Therefore, this project sets out to study the likelihood and significance of any such effects, to learn more about how they might work, how serious they might become, and what could be done to counter them.

Research has already demonstrated ways in which making promises about future technology matters in the here and now. We have previously researched how promises about technical fixes to the climate change problem have shaped (and been shaped by) economic, political and cultural processes in society. More specifically, we have studied how promises about carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) technology have sustained market-based emissions trading policy, which have failed to stimulate the actual use of CCS. And we have studied how the threat (the negative promise, as it were) of risky and politically challenging solar radiation management technologies has made the promise of GGR technologies more acceptable. Using the same kind of approach, we aim to explore how GGR promises shape economic, political and cultural processes in society, and so - indirectly, potentially impact on mitigation technologies and practices.

We will study the evolution to date of promises of GGR technologies, and develop scenarios for how they might evolve in the future and impact on (deter) mitigation technologies. We will test these scenarios, by deliberating on them with existing and potential GGR stakeholders. We will engage with GGR researchers and developers, and also with others with reasons to be interested in the future of GGRs - such as other climate researchers, financiers, policy makers and environmental NGOs. This way we will learn about some aspects of mitigation deterrence, but also prompt key GGR stakeholders to be more alert to mitigation deterrence risks and their potential roles in causing and/or countering them.

We expect to develop knowledge about mitigation deterrence mechanisms and impacts, help stimulate awareness about mitigation deterrence risks, and help develop strategies to counter them. Learning more about this will benefit all of us in the sense of improved climate policy. Climate policy makers and researchers need to understand mitigation deterrence effects and their potential significance. Those closely involved in researching, developing and funding GGRs, and all those involved in debating their futures, will also benefit, in terms of getting help to reflect on and develop strategies to handle mitigation deterrence.

There will also be a direct academic contribution to literatures on mitigation deterrence and closely related concepts across a range of social science literatures. The project will develop a unique contribution to these literatures, drawing on cultural political economy theory, and informed by the extensive engagement with GGR stakeholders undertaken.

Planned Impact

It is crucial for any programme of research on greenhouse gas removal (GGR) technologies that the systemic interactions, including any trade-offs, between accelerated mitigation and GGRs are considered and explored. If the promise of GGR deters or even only delays mitigation, this is problematic for the achievement of broad climate policy goals. Therefore, this project will contribute an analysis of 'mitigation deterrence' effects, as well as interventions to counter them, addressing the key question: 'under what conditions can GGR coexist with, and complement, other mitigation strategies?'

A fundamental part of the research we plan to carry out takes the form of deliberation with GGR stakeholders about part and potential future GGR technology pathways, and how they will impact on mitigation. This way, we will learn about some processes that can lead to mitigation deterrence and about possible ways of countering such processes. The participating GGR stakeholders will also learn more about mitigation deterrence risks, and be stimulated to develop strategies to help countering them.

A key set of beneficiaries are thus people directly engaged with GGR research and development, with deep expertise about GGRs and who will be centrally involved in discussions about the roles and impacts of these technologies. We will also engage with a wider set of stakeholders. Crucially, we will engage with key decision makers, with influence over funding of research and development of GGRs, as well as their inclusion and roles in climate policy. Beyond this, we aim to involve and engage with a wider set of organisations with roles to play in public debates about GGRs, e.g. NGOs.

We will engage with GGR stakeholders in the UK, but importantly also from other countries. Our focus is on the Global North in the first instance, as countries there have been more active to date in the GGR area. We will include engagement with Chinese organisations, given the global significance Chinese involvement in GGR development would have.

The expected outcomes from the project include knowledge and action: knowledge about the potential of GGRs; awareness about the plausibility, scale, mechanisms and conditions of mitigation deterrence risks; and reflexive action among stakeholders reflecting on their potential roles in countering mitigation deterrence, including active consideration of mechanisms to minimize mitigation deterrence as part of GGR policy development.

Finally, we are well aware that this project will also contribute to research and talk about GGRs and so could come with its own deterrence risks, but believe that our focus on such risks and how to counter them makes it defensible and even highly needed.


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Description Participation in a group producing a policy briefing on negative emissions technologies, for BEIS, by the Royal Society of Engineering and the Royal Society
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Description Interview for CSM 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Interview for Christina Science Monitor for an article on negative emissions technologies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017