Global convention delegates consider strict limits on climate engineering
According to draft language obtained by The Washington Post, the proposal would declare 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 a controlled setting.
The measure could stifle ongoing research projects in the European Union, Britain, Germany and Finland. The United States is considering whether to start a climate engineering program, but since it has not ratified the convention's global treaty, it would not be bound by any of its prohibitions.
Rafe Pomerance, a senior fellow at the advocacy group and think tank Clean Air Cool Planet, said it would be a serious mistake to adopt the new restrictions.
"Rather than encourage research, the decision throws a cloud over the whole enterprise," he wrote in an e-mail. "A potential tool that may be necessary to save the world biodiversity is being constrained."
But advocates of the measure, such as the international grassroots advocacy organization ETC Group, suggest it will rein in uncontrolled attempts to alter the earth's climate.
"It is a consensual, common sense and precautionary decision that was carefully negotiated by 193 governments," wrote ETC Group program manager Diana Bronson in an e-mail. "The decision is intended to bring the Climate engineering cowboys into line -- those who are ready to get on with dangerous and high-risk experiments without any international governance or proper examination of side effects. There are many people in the scientific community who agree that this precaution is necessary. Those who are keen on geo-engineering experiments, for understandable reasons do not like it."
The Convention on Biodiversity was created in 1993 under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Program. The binding treaty requires its parties to develop and implement plans for sustainable use and protection of biodiversity and holds an annual convention on biodiversity issues. The CBD lists 193 nations as "parties," with 168 having signed the treaty.
The draft also instructs the convention's Subsidiary Body on Scientific,Technical and Technological Advice (to examine the issue and report back before the parties meet again two years from now. The proposed ban is likely to come up for a vote Friday, the last day of the two-week meeting.
The full wording of the prohibition follows after the jump:
(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  (see below) 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;
(y) Make sure that ocean fertilization activities are addressed in accordance with decision IX/16 C acknowledging the work of the London Convention/London Protocol;
 Without prejudice to future deliberations on the definition of geo-engineering activities, understanding that any technologies which 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.
The new instructions to the SBSTTA:
(n) Taking full account of the views and experiences of indigenous and local communities, small farmers, fishers and livestock keepers, compile and synthesize available scientific information on:
(i) The possible impacts of geo-engineering techniques on biodiversity and associated social, economic and cultural impacts;
(ii) Governance options for regulating geo-engineering activities; and
(iii) Options on definitions and scopes of geo-engineering, and make this information 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; (n bis) 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 existing related 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.
| October 28, 2010; 11:36 AM ET
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