Tag Archives: global environmental politics

A Moratorium on Geoengineering? Really?

In the end of October 2010, participants in the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) included in their agreement to protect biodiversity , a moratorium on geo­engineering. This CBD moratorium came timely as the debate around geoengineering virtually exploded internationally with several high-profile reports being published by, amongst others, the British Royal Society, and the U.S. Congress. The IPCC has announced it will organize several expert meetings in 2011 to focus on geoengineering, to help prepare the next review of climate science, due for completion in 2014. 

But what does this “moratorium” really imply? This is not a trivial question considering the often acclaimed fragmentation of global environmental governance, and the fact that most geoengineering schemes would have impacts on additional planetary boundaries such as land use change and biodiversity. Two main (and highly simplified of course) interpretations seem to exist in a quite complicated legal debate.

One is that the CBD moratorium places a considerable limit on geoengineering experimentation and attempts. The only exception are “small-scale” controlled experiments that meet specific requirements, i.e.: that they are assumed in controlled settings and for explicit scientific purposes, are subject to prior environmental impact assessment, and have no impacts beyond national jurisdiction. Proponents of this position note that even if the CBD moratorium is not legally binding, governments launching large geoengineering experiments would “risk their credibility and diplomatic reputations”, a strong enough disincentive that effectively “blocks risky climate techno-fixes”. The Canadian NGO ETC Group elaborates this point here.

The second position instead highlights several points that undermine the strenght of the CBD moratorium. The first is that the agreement has no legally binding power, and that formal sanctioning mechanisms are absent. The CBD moratorium is “soft law” which implies that States  still could launch geoengineering schemes unilaterally. Note also that the United States has not formally ratified the CBD convention.

Second, even though the CBD moratorium might be seen as defining an upper limit on the scale of geoengineering experiments, key definitional questions remain to be teased out. What is to be defined as “small-scale” and  “experiment”? And what is its status compared to other related pieces of international law, such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the London Convention, and the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, just to mention a few.

Third, as the US Congressional Research Service notes in its report, international agreements are best equipped to deal with disputes between countries, and not necessarily between one country and one private actor, or between private actors that may shift locations to suit their interests (pp. 29). And major private or semi-private actors and funders are out there, including the Bill Gates and Richard Branson $4.6 million Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Resources, Ice911, Intellectual Ventures (see WJS article “Global warming might be solved with a helium balloon and a few miles of garden hose”), Carbon Engineeering, Planktos Foundation, and GreenSea Ventures (featured in Nature here).

So, do we really have a real, effective global moratorium on geoengineering? Far from it it seems. Feel free to disagree in the comment field below.

Global Governance and Planetary Boundaries

by Victor Galaz (twitter.com/vgalaz)

The Stockholm Resilience Centre hosted a small scientific meeting in mid-March entitled “Planetary Boundaries, Multiple Global Crises, and Global Governance”. This meeting was the first governance follow up of two recent publications dealing with the possibilities of global scale, rapid and interacting global environmental crises previously featured in this blog [here and here].

A number of internationally renowned scholars contributed to this meeting, and you can meet many of them in these short videos produced by the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Meet Frank Biermann (IVM, Netherlands) as he explores the challenges posed to global environmental governance; Derk Loorbach (DRIFT, Erasmus University, Netherlands) as he elaborates on the role of transition management for understanding resilience; Karin Bäckstrand (Lund University, Sweden) as she discusses the link between democracy and global environmental governance; and Jeremy Allouche (IDS, UK) as he explores the link between environmental scarcity and conflict.

Derk Loorbach

Jeremy Allouche

Karin Bäckstrand

Frank Biermann (external link)


New Issue of “Global Environmental Politics”

Interesting new issue of Global Environmental Politics out now.

1. Terrorist Threats to the Environment in Iraq and Beyond. By: Al-Damkhi, Ali Mohamed; Al-Fares, Rana Abdullah.

2. Accounting for Difficulties faced in Materializing a Transnational ENGO Conservation Network: A Case-Study from the Mediterranean. By: Botetzagias, Iosif; Robinson, Prue; Venizelos, Lily.

3. Framing Anthropogenic Environmental Change in Public Health Terms. By: Stevenson, Michael A.

4. UNEP in Global Environmental Governance: Design, Leadership, Location. By: Ivanova, Maria.

5. Preparing for a Warmer World: Towards a Global Governance System to Protect Climate Refugees. By: Biermann, Frank; Boas, Ingrid. Global

6. Militarization and the Environment: A Panel Study of Carbon Dioxide Emissions and the Ecological Footprints of Nations, 1970-2000. By: Jorgenson, Andrew K.; Clark, Brett; Kentor, Jeffrey.

7. Shifting Tides in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean Tuna Fishery: The Political Economy of Regulation and Industry Responses. By: Havice, Elizabeth; Campling, Liam.

8. The Shadows of Consumption: Consequences for the Global Environment. By: VanDeveer, Stacy D.

9. Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity. By: DiMento, Joseph F. C.

10. Comparative Environmental Regulation in the United States and Russia. By: Henry, Laura A.