UN Affirms ‘Precautionary Approach’ to Planetary Geoengineering
Stressing a “precautionary approach” to meddling with the earth’s systems on a planetary scale, the biennial meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is poised to recommend against large-scale geoengineering experiments until the impacts on oceans and the atmosphere are better understood.
“With greenhouse gas emissions closing in on levels that could guarantee warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and an El Niño-boosted 2016 likely to be the hottest year on record, some scientists are looking to emergency measures,” ClimateHome reports. “But the UN is sticking to a familiar line: pumping the atmosphere with tiny mirrors to deflect sunlight, boosting the uptake of CO2 in oceans by stimulating plankton growth, or burning wood and pumping the emissions underground could be a bad idea.”
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“We’re concerned that with any initiative regarding the use of geoengineering there needs to be an assessment,” CBD Executive Secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias told Climate Home. “These can have unforeseen results and spin-offs. If you capture carbon in the oceans, this is effective through all the food chains.”
The CBD’s draft decision said national risk assessments on individual geoengineering projects would provide an “incomplete basis for global regulation” and called for “more trans-disciplinary research and sharing of knowledge among appropriate institutions” to address potential ecosystem impacts and ethical issues.
“For instance, one study by scientists at the UK Met Office in 2013 said the release of fine particles into the northern hemisphere atmosphere could lower temperatures, but heighten drought risk in the Sahel,” writes ClimateHome’s Ed King.
Geoengineering researchers called for additional science and engineering research, arguing that some form of intervention will be inevitable given the pace and scale of global warming. “Whilst I thoroughly agree that we can best cut anthropogenic emissions as the best way to manage climate change, the CBD will have to face the fact that it simply isn’t happening fast enough,” said Richard Darton, co-director of the Oxford Geoengineering Programme.
King’s report focuses in part on the lack of consistent reporting on national efforts at geoengineering, and the limited debate on future directions. “If we are ever to have a conversation about governance we need to normalize reporting,” said George Mason University’s Andrew Light. “We need to be looking into the full range of activities, especially when we’re talking about the need to move towards net decarbonization by 2050 or thereafter.”