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First-ever congressional geoengineering report released

By Juliet Eilperin

House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon issued his long-awaited geoengineering report Friday, and he's got a simple message for his colleagues and the Obama administration: You're better off looking into managing the climate than ignoring it.

The move came just as delegates from 193 nations adopted language on Friday imposing a moratorium on geoengineering research and projects under a global treaty on biodiversity.

The measure adopted under the Convention on Biological Diversity, which just concluded in Nagoya, Japan, states "that no climate-related geo-engineering activities that may affect biodiversity take place, 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, with the exception of small scale scientific research studies" under controlled circumstances.

While some scientists and environmentalists have called for geoengineering research as an important precautionary measure against catastrophic global warming, other activists hailed the new moratorium as a way to keep individual actors from altering the climate. The new prohibition does not apply to the United States, which has yet to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity.

"Any private or public experimentation or adventurism intended to manipulate the planetary thermostat will be in violation of this carefully crafted U.N. consensus," said Silvia Ribeiro, Latin American director of ETC Group, a grass-roots advocacy organization.


A delegate from the European Union shows a "time" sign during a plenary session of the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10) in Nagoya, central Japan, October 29, 2010. (Yuriko Nakao-Reuters)

Gordon took an opposite tack in his report, saying that while America needs to make cutting greenhouse gas emissions its top priority when addressing global warming, it can simultaneously start researching a fall-back plan without creating a massive new bureaucracy.

In his statement, Gordon said his report "is in no way meant as an endorsement of climate engineering," but instead an effort to give "insight into where existing federal research capacities lie that could be leveraged for these activities."

"Climate engineering carries with it a tremendous range of uncertainties and possibilities, ethical and political concerns, and the potential for catastrophic side effects," he said. "I want to be absolutely clear that I am not in favor of deploying climate engineering; making firm commitments and taking real actions to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions should always be the priority. However, if we find ourselves passing an environmental tipping point, we will need to have done research to understand our options."

The National Science Foundation is best positioned to take the lead on the matter, according to the report, which also identifies several other agencies that can play key roles in any federal climate engineering research program.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the report said, should play a main role in researching the environmental effect of any climate engineering strategy "involving chemical inputs into the environment that would directly or indirectly impact ocean waters," such as ocean fertilization. It should also oversee federal exploration of the potential effect of sulfates on the stratospheric ozone layer, the report said.

The Energy Department, meanwhile, should take the lead in developing computer models related to geoengineering, as well as research into how to capture carbon dioxide from the air and store it in nonconventional ways.Traditional carbon sequestration programs such as ones focused on farming and forestry should stay within the Agriculture Department and U.S. Forest Service, the report said.

In addition, Gordon suggested, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration should take climate engineering into consideration when collecting data about naturally-occurring events such as volcanic eruptions.

Since Gordon is retiring this year, it is unclear who will take up the mantle of geoengineering in his absence. But Ken Caldeira, an environmental science professor at the Carnegie Institution Department of Global Ecology, said Gordon's colleagues would be wise to listen to him.

"The federal government would be remiss if it did not undertake studies on what we might do if a climate crisis occurs," Caldeira, who testified before Gordon's panel, wrote in an e-mail. "If the unexpected happens; for example, if widespread famines were to occur in many parts of the world, we should be ready with contingency plans. And that contingency planning must consider the full range of options, including those that involve directly intervening in the climate system."

"Nobody likes the idea of engineering Earth's climate," Caldeira added. "Unfortunately, at some point, our other options may be even more unpleasant."

For those interested in the new geoengineering research moratorium from the Convention on Biological Diversity, the full text comes after the jump.

Under Climate Change and Biodiversity (UNEP/CBD/COP/10/L.36)

8. Invites Parties and other Governments, according to national circumstance and priorities, as well as relevant organizations and processes, to consider the guidance below on ways to conserve, sustainably use and restore biodiversity and ecosystem services while contributing to climate‑change mitigation and adaptation:

(w) Ensure, in line and consistent with decision IX/16 C, on ocean fertilization and biodiversity and climate change, in the absence of science based, global, transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanisms for geo-engineering, and in accordance with the precautionary approach and Article 14 of the Convention, that no climate-related geo-engineering activities[1] that may affect biodiversity take place, 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, with the exception of small scale scientific research studies that would be conducted in a controlled setting in accordance with Article 3 of the Convention, and only if they are justified by the need to gather specific scientific data and are subject to a thorough prior assessment of the potential impacts on the environment;

[1] Without prejudice to future deliberations on the definition of geo-engineering activities, understanding that any technologies that deliberately reduce solar insolation or increase carbon sequestration from the atmosphere on a large scale that may affect biodiversity (excluding carbon capture and storage from fossil fuels when it captures carbon dioxide before it is released into the atmosphere) should be considered as forms of geo-engineering which are relevant to the Convention on Biological Diversity until a more precise definition can be developed. Noting that solar insolation is defined as a measure of solar radiation energy received on a given surface area in a given hour and that carbon sequestration is defined as the process of increasing the carbon content of a reservoir/pool other than the atmosphere.

AND

9 9. Requests the Executive Secretary to:

(o) Compile and synthesize available scientific information, and views and experiences of indigenous and local communities and other stakeholders, on the possible impacts of geo‑engineering techniques on biodiversity and associated social, economic and cultural considerations, and options on definitions and understandings of climate-related geo-engineering relevant to the Convention on Biological Diversity and make it available for consideration at a meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice prior to the eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties;

(p) Taking into account the possible need for science based global, transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanisms, subject to the availability of financial resources, undertake a study on gaps in such existing mechanisms for climate-related geo-engineering relevant to the Convention on Biological Diversity, bearing in mind that such mechanisms may not be best placed under the Convention on Biological Diversity, for consideration by the Subsidiary Body on Scientific Technical and Technological Advice prior to a future meeting of the Conference of the Parties and to communicate the results to relevant organizations;

Under New and Emerging Issues UNEP/CBD/COP/10/L.2 :

4. Invites Parties, other Governments and relevant organizations to submit information on synthetic biology and geo-engineering, for the consideration by the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice, in accordance with the procedures of decision IX/29, while applying the precautionary approach to the field release of synthetic life, cell or genome into the environment;

Under Marine and Coastal Biodiversity UNEP/CBD/COP/10/L.42

13 Reaffirming that the programme of work still corresponds to the global priorities, has been further strengthened through decisions VIII/21, VIII/22, VIII/24, and IX/20, but is not fully implemented, and therefore encourages Parties to continue to implement these programme elements, and endorses the following guidance, where applicable and in accordance with national capacity and circumstances, for enhanced implementation:

(e) Ensuring that no ocean fertilization takes place unless in accordance with decision IX/16 C and taking note of the report (UNEP/CBD/SBSTTA/14/INF/7) and development noted para 57 - 62;

Impacts of ocean fertilization on marine and coastal biodiversity

57. Welcomes the report on compilation and synthesis of available scientific information on potential impacts of direct human-induced ocean fertilization on marine biodiversity (UNEP/CBD/SBSTTA/14/INF/7), which was prepared in collaboration with United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and the International Maritime Organization in pursuance of paragraph 3 of decision IX/20;

58. Recalling the important decision IX/16 C on ocean fertilization, reaffirming the precautionary approach, recognizes that given the scientific uncertainty that exists, significant concern surrounds the potential intended and unintended impacts of large-scale ocean fertilization on marine ecosystem structure and function, including the sensitivity of species and habitats and the physiological changes induced by micro-nutrient and macro-nutrient additions to surface waters as well as the possibility of persistent alteration of an ecosystem, and requests Parties to implement decision IX/16 C;

59. Notes that the governing bodies under the London Convention and Protocol adopted in 2008 resolution LC-LP.1 (2008) on the regulation of ocean fertilization, in which Contracting Parties declared, inter alia, that given the present state of knowledge, ocean fertilization activities other than legitimate scientific research should not be allowed;

60. Recognizes the work under way within the context of the London Convention and London Protocol to contribute to the development of a regulatory mechanism referred to in decision IX/16 C, and invites Parties and other Governments to act in accordance with the Resolution LC-LP.2(2010) of the London Convention and Protocol ;

61. Notes that in order to provide reliable predictions on the potential adverse impacts on marine biodiversity of activities involving ocean fertilization, further work to enhance our knowledge and modeling of ocean biogeochemical processes is required, in accordance with decision IX/16 (c) and taking into account decision IX/20 and LC-LP.2 (2010);

62. Notes also that there is a pressing need for research to advance our understanding of marine ecosystem dynamics and the role of the ocean in the global carbon cycle;

By Juliet Eilperin  | October 29, 2010; 5:15 PM ET
 
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Comments

geoengineering>corporate coolaid. Hail to the rest of the world! Most Americans that are aware of this spraying are aware that it is an attack on all life and is a ploy for power. Chemical arial spraying creates thick, heavy gases and it creates a greenhouse effect. It doesn't take a scientist to figure this out. It is done without regard to life. I hope the rest of the world understands that these atrocities are not representative of all Americans. I am sickened both physically and mentally by what the Bush administration has done and what is being carried on under the "clean air act." We pray this administration will do something but there always seems to be a distraction in favor of these ongoing crimes against humanity.

Posted by: wildernesslight | October 29, 2010 7:40 PM | Report abuse

We will have to do something to save the oceans.

Posted by: BeamMeUpScotty1 | October 31, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

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