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.
Description The risk that pursuing Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR) technologies might deter climate mitigation is plausible to many relevant stakeholders. It is plausible under several assumptions about future political regimes, and for different individual GGR technologies. The risk is also material in that the effect could be very large.
This problem is part of a longer term tendency to rely on promises of future technology to alleviate global warming, and so has enabled prevarication in climate policy. Climate modelling is implicated in this prevarication.
There are things we can do to avoid mitigation deterrence, whilst pursuing GGR technologies. There should be risk assessments made that include assessment of mitigation deterrence risks. It would be prudent to separate greenhouse gas removal from mitigation in policy making, and have separate targets, policies etc. It is also useful to do deliberation among stakeholders to assist them in dealing with deterrence risks.
Exploitation Route We have had a lot of interest from policy makers, and other stakeholders in the research. It could result in changes to climate policy - see suggestions above.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Environment,Transport

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 Referenced in Labour Party Green New Deal working group report.
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Description Submission to BEIS consultation on GGR
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Description Submission to CCC consultation
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Description Avvägningar mellan negativa utsläpp och kortfristiga utsläppsminskningar?: Integrering av diskursiva och materiella dimensioner av 'mitigation deterrence'
Amount 7,500,000 kr (SEK)
Funding ID 2019-01953 
Organisation Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (FORMAS) 
Sector Private
Country Sweden
Start 04/2020 
End 04/2024
Title Deliberative workshop 
Description NB I do struggle to fit this into the categories listed above under "type of research tool or method", which do seem very restrictive. We have developed a new format for running deliberative workshops. The novelty lies in attempts at unsettling the participants to stimulate reflection on how negative emissions technologies may develop under different political scenarios, in order both to collect data, but also stimulate reflection, learning and action in relation to mitigation deterrence risks. We have developed both face to face and in online versions of this format. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Our use of the method will be researched through follow up interviews. We are also hoping to write a journal article on the method. 
Description Socio-economic working group within GGR programme 
Organisation Cranfield University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Nils Markusson led this cross-project programme working group together with Nazmiye Balta-Ozkan, Cranfield University. Togther they organised workshops, and collected data on social science work in the GGR programme. This later led to a paper, under review, together with 4 other researchers funded under the programme.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborators across the GGR programme contributed to workshop discussions and data gathering.
Impact Multiple social sciences. Paper manuscript submitted to Frontiers in Climate.
Start Year 2017
Description Blog posts 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact So far we have produced three blog posts about the project research for our webpage and the academic department.

What on earth is mitigation deterrence? If you care about climate, you need to know, Rebecca Willis
A false promise?, LEC blog - Nils Markusson
How the pernicious promises of imaginary carbon removal harm essential climate action, Duncan McLaren
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Contributions to others' blogs etc 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We have contributed a series of blog posts and podcasts for external actors' blogs etc.

• Exaggerating how much CO2 can be absorbed by tree planting risks deterring crucial climate action, Duncan McLaren, The Conversation
• Trees: one way to tackle climate change?, Duncan McLaren, Shell, The Energy Podcast
• When essential research might be a bad thing. The carbon removal research dilemma, Nils Markusson and Duncan McLaren, FCEA blog
• The problem with net-zero emissions targets, Duncan McLaren, Carbon Brief guest post
• A Case for Separate Emissions Reduction and Negative Emissions, Duncan McLaren, NORI podcast
• A brief history of climate targets and technological promises, Duncan McLaren, Carbon Brief guest post
• Carbon Removal: The dangers of mitigation deterrence, Duncan McLaren, C2G Guest post
• UK launches 'world first' research programme into negative emissions, Carbon Brief
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Deliberative workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact As part of our data collection, we have arranged 9 deliberative workshops, which were not just about collecting data, but at the same time a form of engagement, whereby we had developed scenarios that we presented for the participants, aiming to get their reactions but also to stimulate reflection and subsequent action. We plan follow up interviews with a selection of them to document any such impacts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
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