We applaud the London Convention for addressing a major gap in global governance. The Parties meeting here this week confirmed that large-scale ocean fertilization schemes are not scientifically justified and they urged governments to exercise utmost caution when considering such proposals. - David Santillo, Greenpeace International’s Science UnitGeoengineering refers to intentional large-scale manipulation of land, ocean or atmosphere in an attempt to ‘fix’ climate change. The governments meeting at the London Convention were confronted with a rash of private ‘carbon trading’ schemes that claim to sequester greenhouse gases by dumping large quantities of iron, urea or other additives into the sea. These techniques, known collectively as 'ocean fertilisation', claim to draw climate change gases out of the atmosphere by prompting growth of plankton. The geoengineers seek to win ‘carbon credits’ as a financial reward for these activities – despite the fact that international scientific bodies have warned of potentially devastating ecological consequences for marine ecoystems (previous post).
Moreover, recently a 47 strong research team of leading oceanographers and biogeochemists from the international oceanographic mission KEOPS confirmed earlier doubts on the scientific merits of the technique, and warned for potentially negative effects. What is more, they even concluded that ocean fertilization as currently proposed won't work (here).
Other geoengineering proposals include emulating volcanoes' cooling effects by pumping sulphur into the atmosphere (debunked as dangerous - earlier post), creating a giant space mirror (which would be prohibitively costly), or generating highly reflective clouds (more here). Some of these proposals have been simulated and shown to be very risky (previous post).
In its Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group III of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) discussed global warming mitigation strategies and said about geo-engineering:
Geo-engineering options, such as ocean fertilization to remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere, or blocking sunlight by bringing material into the upper atmosphere, remain largely speculative and unproven, and with the risk of unknown side-effects. Reliable cost estimates for these options have not been published. - IPCC, Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group III: MitigationThe only technique seen as low risk, highly feasible and mentioned by the IPCC as one that could effectively help mitigate climate change, consists of the production of carbon-negative bioenergy (so-called 'bio-energy with carbon storage' or BECS systems). BECS is described as a geoengineering technique because it implies the creation of biomass plantations located at strategic places on the planet.
Ocean fertilization remains highly controversial, and the historic decision of the international body meeting in London this week came just as one company, Planktos, Inc., announced it had set sail from Florida, USA to dump iron in the ocean at an undisclosed location, possibly west of the Galapagos islands, known for their unique ecosystems.
A second private geoengineering outfit, Ocean Nourishment Corporation (ONC) of Australia, caused uproar this week in the Philippines with the discovery of a proposal to dump industrial urea in the ecologically sensitive Sulu Sea region. ONC is reportedly in discussions with the government of Morocco on another proposed dump:
energy :: sustainability :: biomass :: bioenergy :: climate change :: geoengineering :: ocean fertilization :: marine ecosystems :: Galapagos :: IMO :: London Convention ::
Geoengineering profiteers should have no right to alter the ocean commons for their private gain. Until now they’ve been exploiting the lack of international governance. The London convention is sending a clear message to geoengineering cowboys that ocean-dumping schemes are scientifically unjustified and must be regulated. We welcome the London Convention’s decisions on ocean-based geoengineering. We urge governments meeting at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali next month, as well as the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, to follow the London Convention’s lead and begin an international process to put all geoengineering technologies under intergovernmental oversight. - Jim Thomas, ETC GroupMeanwhile, a third private geoengineering firm, Climos, Inc. of USA, attended the London Convention meeting where it proposed a voluntary “code of conduct” for ocean fertilisation – a proposal met with little enthusiasm.
The London Convention decisions were greeted with enthusiasm in the Philippines, where civil society organizations, small-scale fishers and environmentalists are protesting a proposal by Ocean Nourishment Corporation ”to dump urea in the Sulu Sea. The groups will hold a press conference on Monday 15 November in Manila to outline concerns and actions in the region.
There’s clearly an urgent need for international oversight. We were alarmed to discover that a geoengineering company had already approached the Philippines government. Although no permit has been issued yet, at least one experimental dumping of urea has already occurred in the Sulu Sea – without a permit, without environmental assessment, and without public consent. - Neth Dano, Third World Network.According to Hope Shand of the ETC Group, a civil society organisation which screens the responsible use of new technologies, the London Convention has taken a first, important step to prevent geoengineering abuses. However, it maintains its call for a moratorium on large scale and commercial geoengineering projects until there is public debate, intergovernmental oversight and thorough assessment of social, economic and environmental impacts. Geoengineering techno-fixes are not an acceptable response to climate change, the ETC says.
International Maritime Organization: London Convention.
ETC Group: London Convention Puts Brakes on Ocean Geoengineering - November 9, 2007.
Third World Network, SEARICE, Corporate Watch, ETC Group and Greenpeace South East Asia: Geoengineers prepare to pollute Philippine Seas as International Ocean Dumping Body Meets - November 5, 2007.
Rex Dalton, "Ocean tests raise doubts over use of algae as carbon sink", Nature 420, 722 (19 December 2002) | doi:10.1038/420722a
Biopact: The end of a utopian idea: iron-seeding the oceans to capture carbon won't work - April 26, 2007
Biopact: WWF condemns Planktos Inc. iron-seeding plan in the Galapagos - June 27, 2007
Biopact: Simulation shows geoengineering is very risky - June 05, 2007
Biopact: Climate change and geoengineering: emulating volcanic eruption too risky - August 15, 2007
Biopact: Capturing carbon with "synthetic trees" or with the real thing? - February 20, 2007
Biopact: IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: mitigation of climate change - May 04, 2007