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The failure of conventional climate change mitigation to reduce climate-related risks to tolerable levels has spurred interest in more unconventional—and riskier—climate interventions. What currently sounds like science fiction could become a reality in the not-so-distant future: planes blasting particles into the sky to block the sun, vast deserts covered with mirrors, algae sucking carbon into the depths of the ocean. Scholars tend to lump all these unconventional climate measures together in a fuzzy category called “geoengineering,” and set them apart from conventional climate change mitigation. But the characteristics of climate interferences vary across three distinct dimensions, which the mitigation-geoengineering dichotomy fails to capture. First, interventions operate via different mechanisms, such as altering the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases or changing the fraction of incoming solar radiation absorbed by the earth. Second, the characteristic duration of interferences varies from several days to millennia. Third, interferences differ in terms of leverage—the scale of climate impact achievable with a fixed investment of resources. This Article argues that global climate governance would be best served by a unified approach that addresses all climate interferences based on these three dimensions. In such a unified framework, influence over multilateral decisions to deploy risky, high-leverage interventions could be used as an incentive to induce greater national investment in safer, more expensive decarbonization efforts. Scientific uncertainty should not deter early action on geoengineering governance; it should be viewed as an opportunity to lock in agreement on neutral principles while national governments remain behind a partial veil of ignorance regarding their interests.

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University of Pittsburgh Law Review