Global experts urge governments to halt geoengineering projects

Geoengineering is the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the Earth’s climate system to counteract the effects of global warming. It can involve techniques such as solar radiation management, which aims to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface, or carbon dioxide removal, which aims to capture and store excess greenhouse gas emissions.

Geoengineering is highly controversial, as it may have unintended and unpredictable consequences for the environment and human society. Some critics argue that geoengineering is a dangerous distraction from the urgent need to reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Others warn that geoengineering could create new conflicts and inequalities among countries and regions, as well as ethical and governance challenges.

Global experts urge governments to halt geoengineering projects
Global experts urge governments to halt geoengineering projects

What did the Climate Overshoot Commission recommend?

The Climate Overshoot Commission is a panel of global experts convened by the World Economic Forum and the Global Challenges Foundation to explore the risks and opportunities of overshooting the 1.5°C global temperature limit agreed by governments under the Paris Agreement. The commission published its report on Thursday, September 14, 2023, calling for a global moratorium on efforts to geoengineer the planet’s climate.

The commission urged governments to phase out fossil fuels, invest more in adaptation and resilience to the impacts of extreme weather, and deploy technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, such as carbon capture and storage and direct air capture. The commission also supported academic research on solar radiation management, but warned against any practical implementation of such techniques, citing the potential dangers of tinkering with the global climate in ways that are not yet well understood.

The commission’s chair, Pascal Lamy, the former chief of the World Trade Organization, said that overshooting 1.5°C was not inevitable, but that the likelihood was increasing. He said that the world could not ignore the possibility of geoengineering, as some countries could start to investigate and experiment on their own. He said: “There is an increasing international discussion of solar radiation management. But the danger is of unintended consequences, and of transboundary consequences.”

Lamy urged all governments to unilaterally decide on a moratorium, rather than wait for a global agreement on one. He said: “I do not propose a big international conference – that would take a lot of time in my experience.” He said that academic research on solar radiation management should be shared, open and transparent.

What is the current state of geoengineering governance?

There is no global agreement on geoengineering, and no rules on what countries or businesses can do. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has adopted a non-binding moratorium on geoengineering activities that may affect biodiversity, but this does not cover all forms of geoengineering. The London Convention and Protocol, which regulate the dumping of wastes and other matter at sea, have also adopted a resolution to prevent ocean fertilization, a form of geoengineering that involves stimulating the growth of marine algae to absorb carbon dioxide.

However, these agreements are not legally binding, and do not cover all aspects of geoengineering. There is also a lack of clarity on the definitions, classifications, and distinctions of different geoengineering techniques, as well as the roles and responsibilities of different actors and stakeholders. Some experts have called for a more comprehensive and inclusive framework for geoengineering governance, that would address the scientific, ethical, social, legal, and political issues involved.

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