About the research

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 sciences. 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.