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WIREs Clim Change
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Climate geoengineering: issues of path‐dependence and socio‐technical lock‐in

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As academic and policy interest in climate geoengineering grows, the potential irreversibility of technological developments in this domain has been raised as a pressing concern. The literature on socio‐technical lock‐in and path dependence is illuminating in helping to situate current concerns about climate geoengineering and irreversibility in the context of academic understandings of historical socio‐technical development and persistence. This literature provides a wealth of material illustrating the pervasiveness of positive feedbacks of various types (from the discursive to the material) leading to complex socio‐technical entanglements which may resist change and become inflexible even in the light of evidence of negative impacts. With regard to climate geoengineering, there are concerns that geoengineering technologies might contribute so‐called ‘carbon lock‐in’, or become irreversibly ‘locked‐in’ themselves. In particular, the scale of infrastructures that geoengineering interventions would require, and the issue of the so‐called ‘termination effect’ have been discussed in these terms. Despite the emergent and somewhat ill‐defined nature of the field, some authors also suggest that the extant framings of geoengineering in academic and policy literatures may already demonstrate features recognizable as forms of cognitive lock‐in, likely to have profound implications for future developments in this area. While the concepts of path‐dependence and lock‐in are the subject of ongoing academic critique, by drawing analytical attention to these pervasive processes of positive feedback and entanglement, this literature is highly relevant to current debates around geoengineering. WIREs Clim Change 2014, 5:649–661. doi: 10.1002/wcc.296 This article is categorized under: Policy and Governance > Multilevel and Transnational Climate Change Governance Social Status of Climate Change Knowledge > Climate Science and Decision Making

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