Monday, November 01, 2010

Another Report & International Moratorium On Climate Geoengineering

Oct 29: The U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) released an additional report on the highly controversial subject of geoengineerig entitled, Engineering the Climate: Research Needs and Strategies for International Collaboration. The Chairman's report identifies Federal expertise and capabilities relevant to climate engineering research, and calls for transparency, public engagement, international collaboration and a robust risk assessment framework should research be pursued. The report follows the October 26 release of a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) entitled, Climate Change: A Coordinated Strategy Could Focus Federal Geoengineering Research and Inform Governance Efforts (GAO-10-903, September 23, 2010) [See WIMS 10/26/10]. Ironically, the Committee's report was also released on the same day that 110 ministers at the COP10 meeting at the Convention on Biological Diversity held in Nagoya, Japan  [See WIMS 10/18/10] were approving a consensus decision to adopt a moratorium on geoengineering.

    Representative Gordon was quick to clarify that, "This report is in no way meant as an endorsement of climate engineering. It is my intent that this report, and all of the Committee's activities on this subject provide a forum for an open and honest public dialogue regarding the science of climate engineering. It gives insight into where existing federal research capacities lie that could be leveraged for these activities -- to  help preclude undesirable activities and to establish key next steps for the management and governance of research, in addition to encouraging continued conversation within the federal government on this important topic." 

    Chairman Gordon indicated the Committee's latest report reviews the results of an 18 month inquiry conducted in cooperation with the United Kingdom House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. During this inquiry the U.S. Committee held three public hearings on climate engineering (November 5th, 2009, February 4th, 2010, and March 18th, 2010), and staff reviewed expert testimony and conducted informal interviews with leading political and scientific experts within federal agencies.

   Chairman Gordon said, "Climate engineering carries with it a tremendous range of uncertainties and possibilities, ethical and political concerns, and the potential for catastrophic side effects. 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. Developing the science will take time, as will developing appropriate governance structures. We've started the conversation in Congress and with the UK House of Parliament; I hope that consideration of appropriate research investments will follow. We need healthy debate, a transparent process, clear action on emission reductions, and sound scientific research to provide a solid foundation for the tough decision-making that climate change will demand in the future."

According to a release from Chairman Gordon the report:

  • Contains background information on the topic of climate engineering and exploratory research activities currently being conducted.
  • Summarizes the Science and Technology Committee's public hearings on climate engineering.
  • Identifies key research needs.
  • Identifies activities, tools and skills present in federal agencies that could be leveraged for climate engineering research and provides recommendations for research priorities within these agencies.  Featured agencies include the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  • Explores potential capacities for, and provides recommendations on, how research might be organized at the federal level and what lessons can be learned from past experiences.
  • Provides general recommendations about next steps, research priorities and management strategies.
    Recommendations in the report include:
  • Policymakers should begin consideration of climate engineering research now to better understand which technologies or methods, if any, represent viable strategies for managing a changing climate and which pose unacceptable environmental or economic  risks.
  • There must be an international consensus on climate engineering terminology that will best communicate the strategies, potential risks, and desired effects to the scientific community, policy makers, and the public.
  • Any federal climate engineering research program should leverage existing facilities, instruments, skills and partnerships within federal agencies.
  • Governments should make public engagement a priority of any climate engineering effort.
  • Further collaborative work between national legislatures on topics with international reach, such as climate engineering, should be pursued, and this inquiry between the United States and the United Kingdom should serve as a model for future inter-Committee collaboration.

    On October 19, at the Biological Diversity COP10 meeting, the Canadian-based ETC Group released a 52-page report entitled, Geopiracy: The Case Against Geoengineering, which called for an international moratorium on geoengineering saying it was, "a political strategy aimed at letting industrialized countries off the hook for their climate debt." [See WIMS 10/27/10]. On October 29, at the conclusion of the 2-week COP10 meeting, the 193-member UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) closed its tenth biennial meeting with a de facto moratorium on geoengineering projects and experiments. Silvia Ribeiro, Latin American Director of ETC Group said, "Any private or public experimentation or adventurism intended to manipulate the planetary thermostat will be in violation of this carefully crafted UN consensus."

    According to information released by ETC Group, the agreed to moratorium language reads in part, "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 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 . ."

    The initial definition of "geo-engineering activities" referenced above includes: "Without prejudice to future deliberations on the definition of geo-engineering activities, understanding that any technologies that deliberately reduce solar insulation 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 insulation 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."

    Access a release from Rep. Gordon (click here). Access an overview and link to the complete 56-page Committee report (click here). Access the Science Committee website on Climate Engineering for extensive background information and hearings (click here). Access a lengthy release from ETC including the full texts of the relevant COP10 decisions on geoengineering (click here). Access a release from ETC Group and link to the press conference webcast (click here). Access the CBD COP 10 website for additional background information, documents and webcasts (click here). Access the complete 70-page GAO report (click here).