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Mixed messages on geoengineering: international community approves moratorium, US pushes research

Efforts to explore geoengineering, whereby governments would employ large-scale projects to alter the world’s climate in a bid to combat climate change, received mixed messages this week. In Nagoya, Japan—where all but three of the world’s nations (the US, Andorra, and the Holy See) met at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to hammer out an agreement on stemming biodiversity loss—member nations agreed on Friday to a moratorium on geoengineering schemes. On the same day a US congressional report on geoengineering, which it termed climate engineering, recommended “research now to better understand which technologies or methods, if any, represent viable stopgap strategies for managing our changing climate.”

The international community agreed on a moratorium on implementing any geoengineering schemes that could affect global biodiversity, which basically covers all geoengineering ideas since researchers have little idea of potential impacts, “until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities and appropriate consideration of the associated risks for the environment and biodiversity and associated social, economic and cultural impacts.”

However, the moratorium allows for the continuation of “small-scale” scientific studies undertaken in controlled circumstances.

Since the US is not a member of the CBD, the moratorium does not apply there. As if to accentuate that fact, the US’s first-ever congressional report on geoengineering recommended further research given the threat of climate change.

“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,” the congressional report reads, which recommends that the National Science Foundation (NSF) lead the research effort.

Some geoengineering ideas include putting massive mirrors in space to reflect the sun’s rays away from Earth, fertilizing the oceans with iron to boom phytoplankton growth to absorb carbon, enhancing cloud reflectivity with water spray to whiten them, or releasing sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to block rays.

Scientists say a far more effective and safe way to combat global climate change is to rapidly cut the world’s greenhouse gas emissions from human activities such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation.

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