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CSSN Scholar Publications

Attractions of delay: Using deliberative engagement to investigate the political and strategic impacts of greenhouse gas removal technologies

December 15, 2021

Research from CSSN scholars Duncan McLaren and Nils Markusson evaluates how to minimize mitigation deterrence when it comes to greenhouse gas removal. 

Concerns have been raised that a focus on greenhouse gas removals (GGR) in climate models, scientific literature and other media might deter measures to mitigate climate change through reduction of emissions at source – the phenomenon of ‘mitigation deterrence’. Given the urgent need for climate action, any delay in emissions reduction would be worrying. We convened nine deliberative workshops to expose stakeholders to futures scenarios involving mitigation deterrence. The workshops examined ways in which deterrence might arise, and how it could be minimized. The deliberation exposed social and cultural interactions that might otherwise remain hidden. The paper describes narratives and ideas discussed in the workshops regarding political and economic mechanisms through which mitigation deterrence might occur, the plausibility of such pathways, and measures recommended to reduce the risk of such occurrence. Mitigation deterrence is interpreted as an important example of the ‘attraction of delay’ in a setting in which there are many incentives for procrastination. While our stakeholders accepted the historic persistence of delay in mitigation, some struggled to accept that similar processes, involving GGRs, may be happening now. The paper therefore also reviews the claims made by participants about mitigation deterrence, identifying discursive strategies that advocates of carbon removal might deploy to deflect concerns about mitigation deterrence. We conclude that the problem of mitigation deterrence is significant, needs to be recognized in climate policy, and its mechanisms better understood. Based on stakeholder proposals we suggest ways of governing GGR which would maximize both GGR and carbon reduction through other means.

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