Tag Archives: global environmental change

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.

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.

Part V. What Builds Adaptiveness? Social Networks and International Regimes

What builds a capacity to deal with change and stresses? And where are the research frontiers? While previous posts explored the challenges posed by multiple stresses and shocks, the need to understand planetary boundaries, and the role of innovation, this post deals with the features of adaptiveness at the local and international level.

Listen to an interview (by Eric Paglia at Think Globally Radio*) with Beatrice Crona from Stockholm University, as she elaborates the role of informal social networks in building adaptiveness. You can also listen to a phone interview with Prof. Oran Young from University of California (Santa Barbara) about a range of adaptiveness challenges posed for decision-makers at the international level, and the need to study the dynamics of international environmental regimes.

Beatrice Crona

Beatrice Crona is an assistant professor at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (Stockholm University), and has published extensively on the role of social networks in natural resources management (“Management of Natural Resources at the Community Level: Exploring the Role of Social Capital and Leadership in a Rural Fishing Community” in World Development,The role of social networks in natural resource governance: What relational patterns make a difference?” in Global Environmental Change).

Interview with Beatrice Crona [6:30]

Oran Young

Prof. Oran Young is a world leader in the fields of international governance and environmental institutions. His scientific work encompasses both basic research focusing on collective choice and social institutions, and applied research dealing with issues pertaining to international environmental governance and the Arctic as an international region. Among the more than 20 books he has authored are The Institutional Dimensions of Environmental Change (MIT Press, 2002) and Governance in World Affairs (Cornell University Press, 1999).

Interview with Oran Young [11.40]


* Think Globally Radio is a debate/discussion style radio program intended to help spread awareness and deeper understanding on issues of the environment and sustainable development. Each episode focuses on an important environmental issue, with experts invited to the studio to provide insight and expertise. Guests on Think Globally Radio typically come from academia, industry, the policy making sector, advocacy organizations, the scientific community, state authorities, and research institutes.