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At U.N. Convention, Groups Push for Geoengineering Moratorium

Amid calls for more research, a United Nations convention on biodiversity considers a proposal to ban geoengineering solutions to global warming



Image courtesy rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org

Delegates from 193 nations are meeting in Nagoya, Japan, this week. On their agenda is a proposal for a moratorium on field experiments in potential geoengineering solutions for global warming.

It is a continuation of a controversial debate among the group, usually focused on discussions of ensuring the survival of endangered species and the loss of key habitats. They are parties to the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity.

A draft agenda for the meeting, dated Oct. 1, includes a proposal that "no climate-related geoengineering activities take place until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities and appropriate consideration of the associated risks."

It's not clear that the broadly worded prohibition will meet with approval from delegates, but it isn't the first time the Convention on Biodiversity waded into the emerging field.

Two years ago in Bonn, Germany, nations that participate in the convention backed a ban on one geoengineering technique -- seeding the ocean with tiny particles of iron to encourage the growth of algae that consume carbon dioxide.

Environmental groups were able to use the ban to persuade the German government to temporarily halt one large-scale field test of ocean iron fertilization -- known as LOHAFEX -- in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica.

The Canada-based ETC Group is among those pushing for the new ban over concerns that field tests or implementation of geoengineered climate fixes will disproportionately harm developing nations and dilute support for an international effort to cut the world's greenhouse gas output, said program manager Diana Bronson.

A Plan B for the planet?
"In 2008, this really was seen by everybody as a nutcase sci-fi thing and now, regrettably, people are starting to take it a lot more seriously," she said.

Major scientific organizations -- including the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union and the U.K. Royal Society -- have issued cautious calls for more research, though warning that geoengineering approaches shouldn't supplant efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Many experts who support geoengineering research say it should be considered a planetary "Plan B," an option to exercise if cutting greenhouse gas emissions can't stave off severe climate change effects.

Policymakers are starting to take notice, judging by a number of reports on geoengineering that are nearing completion.

The House Science and Technology Committee is "hopeful" it will release a report co-authored with the science committee in the U.K. House of Commons by the end of the month, said a spokeswoman for Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.).

"Geoengineering is controversial and something I hope will never take place, but it's irresponsible to at least not start looking into areas of potential research," Gordon said at a congressional hearing he convened earlier this year. "Any implementation would be decades out, but you have to start somewhere."

The Government Accountability Office is also preparing a geoengineering report, as is a task force created by the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy. That group aims to release its report early next year, said NCEP's research manager, Sasha Mackler.

The commission will weigh in with recommendations for a federal geoengineering research program and principles for governing the emerging technology at a time when geoengineering's profile is rising rapidly.

"There is now a sort of a policy vacuum in the climate space because of what we've seen happen over the course of this Congress," Mackler said, referring to Democrats' failed effort to pass a climate bill. "There's an appetite for fresh ideas. Geoengineering is very unknown in policy circles, really, and that's almost a dangerous position to be in for an issue like this ... it can be picked up and politicized very easily."

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500

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