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ETC Group on Geoengineering Developments and How to Take Action

There are three important new developments on geoengineering (large-scale intentional manipulation of the Earth systems in an attempt to affect the climate) that we we like to bring to your attention.  What has long been lurking in the shadows of climate negotiations as a wealthy country Plan B has all of a sudden come front and center.  We urge you to pay attention to these developments and intervene where you can.
1.  Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC gave an interview to The Guardian in the UK on the weekend, stating that “We are putting ourselves in a scenario where we will have to develop more powerful technologies to capture emissions out of the atmosphere”.   Capturing carbon from the atmosphere is geoengineering.  This takes place at a time when Canada and New Zealand are seeking to start a work programme for agriculture in the UNFCCC, looking at modalities for enhancing the amount of carbon that can be stored in soil through techniques like biochar.
Technologies which capture CO2 from the atmosphere through chemical processes (known as direct air capture) are untested and unproven and recently received a particularly negative assessment from the American Physical Society.   The APS found that the prototype direct air capture technology they assessed was not even economically viable before considering the enormous unresolved issues related to the eventual sequestration of carbon in deep geological formations. .  Other geoengineering methods for CO2 removal include ocean fertilization and liming the oceans, both with potentially devastating consequences on marine ecosystems.   See for example this review on ocean fertilization (which has been under a moratorium since 2008 but which is rearing its head again as a group of universities are intent are re-starting experimentation.
2. The three IPCC working groups will be holding a joint meeting on geoengineering in Lima, 20-22 June in preparation for the Fifth Assessment report.  The terms of reference for the meeting are here.   The organizing committee of the meeting includes prominent proponents of geoengineering such as American scientist Ken Caldeira, and Canadians David Keith (University of Calgary) and Jason Blackstock (CIGI) and the topics up for discussion include governance and social, economic and legal aspects of the question.   Keith and Caldeira were instrumental in the Royal Society report on goengineering and both testified before Congress and the UK House of Commons in favour of more research.  They both have patents pending, as you can see from the ETC Group report Geopiracy and are involved in a wide variety of initiatives on geoengineering.
They co-manage Bill Gate’s private geoengineering fund of $4.6 million.   Jason Blackstock was recently described in the Canadian Walrus Magazine as “a young scholar with an almost luminous sense of self-confidence”.  He was the main author of the peculiar Novim report on stratospheric aerosols and has been involved in getting prestigous mainstream foreign policy outfits involved in geoengineering in the UK, Canada and US .   Blackstock is also slated to speak on a panel about geoengineering organized by the Canadian embassy (!) in Sao Paulo Brazil, 16 June 2011.
3.  The Convention on Biological Diversity is also busy reviewing papers and convening meetings ito follow up on the de facto moratorium on geoengineering activities adopted at COP 10 in Nagoya, Japan in October 2010.  The first consultative meeting on geoengineering organized by the CBD will take place June 10 in Bonn, on the margins of the climate negotiations.   This mini-workshop will examine the question of how to define geoengineering, its impacts on biodiversity and questions about its governance — an ambitious agenda.  To its credit, the CBD meeting is not invitation only (like so many others: the SRMGI consultation recently held in the UK, the International Risk Governance Council, the Asilomar Conference on Climate Intervention ) and civil society organizations and governments are equally able to attend.
Furthermore, the CBD is mandated not to do a simple technical review of the proposals but to examine their risks for the environment and biodiversity and associated social, economic and cultural impacts.   The CBD has also created a “liaison group” to oversee its work on geoengineering that will hopefully provide some balance to the discussions thus far that have been dominated by a small group of scientific experts engaged in research, with notoriously low participation from developing countries, social scientists, women, Indigenous Peoples and local communities, as well as other critical voices from civil society.
On the one hand, it is a positive development that different UN bodies are beginning to discuss geoengineering because any modification of our oceans  and atmosphere will ultimately affect all countries. All countries must therefore be involved in discussions about it.   However, there will also be tremendous pressure exerted by powerful countries who are counting on using this Plan B to move forward with research, public funding programmes and real-world experimentation with inevitable transboundary impacts. The global South and civil society must be clear that geoengineering is not an alternative to the existing and agreed upon priorities of mitigation and adaptation, according to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Any new multilateral governance arrangement must strengthen the existing moratorium, not weaken it.  That means a strict prohibition of all unilateral experimentation of geoengineering technologies  —  at least until there is a multilateral consensus that this avenue could or should be explored.  So far, international consensus says we do not want to go down this road.  Let’s keep it that way. 
If you have not yet done so, you can join the international campaign against geoengineering experiments atwww.handsoffmotherearth.org

A joint civil society letter is in the works regarding the IPCC meeting. If you are interested to see the letter and sign on behalf of your organization, please contact Veronica Villa: veronica@etcgroup.org

From: Diana Bronson, ETC Group

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