Convention on Biodiversity imposes moratorium on geoengineering

Posted Oct 30, 2010 by Stephanie Dearing
The 10th Convention on Biodiversity, hosted by Japan this year, wrapped up Friday with a new and improved agreement intended to protect global biodiversity.
A schematic that illustrates geoengineering techniquest to counteract greenhouse gas warming  also k...
A schematic that illustrates geoengineering techniquest to counteract greenhouse gas warming, also known as climate change. Diaggram courtesy of Johann Feichter, Jan Kazil, Stefan Kinne and Johannes Quaas, from their presentation, "Perspectives of Solar Radiation Management."
B. Matthews
Only those nations that are signatories to the Convention on Biodiversity are bound by the new agreement set into place during the Convention. A press release issued by the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) on Friday said the "historic decisions" reached during the convention means signatory parties "... Agreed to at least halve and where feasible bring close to zero the rate of loss of natural habitats including forests;
- Established a target of 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of marine and coastal areas;
- Through conservation and restoration, Governments will restore at least 15 percent of degraded areas; and
- Will make special efforts to reduce the pressures faced by coral reefs.
Parties also agreed to a substantial increase in the level of financial resources in support of implementation of the Convention."
Tucked away in this muted announcement are the details. One such detail was a moratorium on further geoengineering projects, a decision feted by the ETC Group. The ETC Group has lobbied tirelessly for increased protection of what some call "mother earth." The moratorium means, said ETC's Latin American Director Silvia Ribeiro, “Any private or public experimentation or adventurism intended to manipulate the planetary thermostat will be in violation of this carefully crafted UN consensus.”
However, the moratorium will not apply to those nations which have not ratified the Convention, and the United States is one of those nations not affected.
After the ETC Group proposed a ban of geoengineering, a scientist wrote a letter to the CBD's newsletter, [Square Brackets] saying the proposal would mean large-scale activities such as tree planting would also be banned. The author of the letter was Professor John Shepherd who heads up the Royal Society Geoengineering Working Group, and is co-chair of the Royal Society's Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative.
Geoengineering is a term that encompasses a variety of methods people might undertake to combat climate change. Hands Off Mother Earth describes geoengineering as "... large scale schemes that intend to intervene in the earth’s oceans, soils and atmosphere with the aim of combating climate change." In other words, altering the earth in order to stop climate change. This can be done through a variety of means, such as "... blasting sulfate particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect the sun’s rays; dumping iron particles in the oceans to nurture CO2-absorbing plankton; firing silver iodide into clouds to produce rain; genetically engineering crops to have reflective leaves; spraying seawater into clouds to make clouds whiter; dumping large quantities of plant matter into the ocean or turning it into charcoal for burying in soils."
ETC's Executive Director, Pat Mooney lauded the moratorium, saying “This decision clearly places the governance of geoengineering in the United Nations where it belongs. This decision is a victory for common sense, and for precaution. It will not inhibit legitimate scientific research. Decisions on geoengineering cannot be made by small groups of scientists from a small group of countries that establish self-serving ‘voluntary guidelines’ on climate hacking. What little credibility such efforts may have had in some policy circles in the global North has been shattered by this decision. The UK Royal Society and its partners should cancel their Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative and respect that the world’s governments have collectively decided that future deliberations on geoengineering should take place in the UN, where all countries have a seat at the table and where civil society can watch and influence what they are doing.”
Some nations, fearing the negative impacts of climate change, are not willing to relinquish the potential offered by geoengineering. The United States Committee on Science and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives just issued a report on geoengineering, which the Committee calls "climate engineering." The Committee said "... reducing greenhouse gas emissions should be the first priority of any domestic or international climate initiative. Nothing should distract us from this priority, and climate engineering must not divert any of the resources dedicated to greenhouse gas reductions and clean energy development. However, we are facing an unfortunate reality. The global climate is already changing and the onset of climate change impacts may outpace the world’s political, technical, and economic capacities to prevent and adapt to them. Therefore, policymakers should begin consideration of climate engineering research now to better understand which technologies or methods, if any, represent viable stopgap strategies for managing our changing climate and which pose unacceptable risks."
The decision to proceed with experiments that could have vastly negative repercussions for the earth and its systems and inhabitants is a not unusual. The Royal Society also blames the pressure of climate change for the impetus to tinker with the earth's systems. "... Man-made climate change is happening and its impacts and costs will be large, serious and unevenly spread. The impacts may be reduced by adaptation and moderated by mitigation, especially by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. However, global efforts to reduce emissions have not yet been sufficiently successful to provide confidence that the reductions needed to avoid dangerous climate change will be achieved. This has led to growing interest in geoengineering, defined here as the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change.
However, despite this interest, there has been a lack of accessible, high quality information on the proposed geoengineering techniques which remain unproven and potentially dangerous."
The moratorium, reported ETC Group, means governments around the world will be asked "... to ensure that no geoengineering activities take place until risks to the environment and biodiversity and associated social, cultural and economic impacts have been appropriately considered. The CBD secretariat was also instructed to report back on various geoengineering proposals and potential intergovernmental regulatory measures."
Carbon capture and storage was left out of the moratorium.