U.N. urged to freeze climate geo-engineering projects

NAGOYA, Japan Thu Oct 21, 2010 3:55am EDT

An agricultural aircraft flies over Prachuab Khirikhan in a bid to seed clouds, about 300 km (186 miles) south of Bangkok, April 4, 2007. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

An agricultural aircraft flies over Prachuab Khirikhan in a bid to seed clouds, about 300 km (186 miles) south of Bangkok, April 4, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Sukree Sukplang

NAGOYA, Japan (Reuters) - The United Nations should impose a moratorium on "geo-engineering" projects such as artificial volcanoes and vast cloud-seeding schemes to fight climate change, green groups say, fearing they could harm nature and mankind.

The risks were too great because the impacts of manipulating nature on a vast scale were not fully known, the groups said at a major U.N. meeting in Japan aimed at combating increasing losses of plant and animal species.

Envoys from nearly 200 countries are gathered in Nagoya, Japan, to agree targets to fight the destruction of forests, rivers and coral reefs that provide resources and services central to livelihoods and economies.

A major cause for the rapid losses in nature is climate change, the United Nations says, raising the urgency for the world to do whatever it can to curb global warming and prevent extreme droughts, floods and rising sea levels.

Some countries regard geo-engineering projects costing billions of dollars as a way to control climate change by cutting the amount of sunlight hitting the earth or soaking up excess greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide.

"It's absolutely inappropriate for a handful of governments in industrialized countries to make a decision to try geo-engineering without the approval of all the world's support," Pat Mooney, from Canada-headquartered advocacy organization ETC Group, told Reuters on the sidelines of the October 18-29 meeting.

"They shouldn't proceed with real-life, in-the-environment experimentation or the deployment of any geo-engineering until there is a consensus in the United Nations that this is okay."

Some conservation groups say geo-engineering is a way for some governments and companies to get out of taking steps to slash planet-warming emissions.

The U.N. climate panel says a review of geo-engineering will be part of its next major report in 2013.

SOLAR REFLECTORS

Some of the geo-engineering schemes proposed include:

-- Ocean fertilization. Large areas are sprinkled with iron or other nutrients to artificially spur growth of phytoplankton, which soak up carbon dioxide. But this could trigger harmful algal blooms, soak up nutrients and kill fish and other animals.

-- Spray seawater into the atmosphere to increase the reflectivity and condensation of clouds so they bounce more sunlight back into space.

-- Placing trillions of tiny solar reflectors out in space to cut the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth.

-- Artificial volcanoes. Tiny sulfate particles or other materials are released into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight, simulating the effect of a major volcanic eruption.

-- Carbon capture and storage. Supported by a number of governments and involves capturing CO2 from power stations, refineries and natural gas wells and pumping it deep underground.

Mooney said the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) should expand its de-facto moratorium on ocean fertilization agreed in 2008 to all geo-engineering, although the proposal was resisted by some countries, including Canada, earlier this year.

Canada said in Nagoya that it would work with the CBD.

"Canada was simply concerned about the lack of clarity on definitions including what activities are included in 'geo-engineering'," Cynthia Wright, head of the delegation, said in an email response.

"Canada shares concerns of the international community about potential negative impacts of geo-engineering on biodiversity and is willing to work with other CBD Parties to avoid these impacts," she said.

Environmentalists said geo-engineering went against the spirit of the Nagoya talks, which aims to set new targets for 2020 to protect nature, such as setting up more land and marine protected areas, cutting pollution and managing fishing.

"We are certainly in favor of more (geo-engineering) research, as in all fields, but not any implementation for the time being because it's too dangerous. We don't know what the effects can be," said Francois Simard of conservation group IUCN.

"Improving nature conservation is what we should do in order to fight climate change, not trying to change nature."

(Reporting by Chisa Fujioka; Editing by David Fogarty)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (8)
zotdoc wrote:
Global warming may be occuring, and it may be due to humans, or not. People will be displaced if global warming occurs, but no one knows if that would definitely be a bad thing in the long term. Maybe if the earth warms we will have longer growing seasons and more arable land to feed our burgeoning population. Humans as a species have come closest to extinction during periods of climate cooling in the past. Who really knows. More research needs to be done to define the problem before we try to engineer something as complex as climate. A few small scale experiments could be done to see what if anything will work, but nothing should be done on a massive scale at this time.

Oct 21, 2010 10:45am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Gotthardbahn wrote:
This is pure science fiction concocted by a bunch of subsidised NGOs with nothing better to do, reported by a lazy media hungry for content. Artificial volcanoes, indeed.

Oct 21, 2010 11:02am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Tigergreen1 wrote:
I am against Geo-engineering for the following reasons:
Carbon capture and storage, actually means storage of Carbon dioxide produced by the process of combustion in our atmosphere. Thus for every 44gms of CO2 stored we would be removing 32gms of Oxygen from our atmosphere. Mammals have fairly advanced lungs but can not abstract anything like 100% of the Oxygen inhaled. Invertebrates and Fish etc. are far less efficient and the 20% of Oxygen in the air is likely to be necessary to result in high enough levels in the water to support its life forms. Storing the Carbon would be OK, but better still: why not convert the CO2 back to hydrocarbons or electricity. A number of research projects are already showing a lot of promise – solar furnaces to electrochemical cells.
Seeding the ocean with Iron/fertilizers is equally daft. We already know a lot about the effects of algal blooms due to ‘accidental’ release of fertilizers into the seas and freshwaters of the planet. The increased surface algae die and sink, meanwhile the decomposers get to work and in living remove large amounts of Oxygen from the water; with the result that it becomes too oxygen deficient for the survival of the waters larger Zoofauna.
Global warming will, under the normal laws of physics, give rise to higher evaporation rates from the water’s surface. So there should be no need for the expensive practice of spraying seawater up into the clouds!
The placing of trillions of tiny solar reflectors in space to prevent a percentage of the sunlight reaching earth, seems equally fraught. How are these to be controlled, removed, repositioned etc. We have a complex series of temperature inversions that are not well understood in the atmosphere. Moving up through the Trophosphere the air cools; at approx the junction of the Trophosphere with the Stratosphere it gradually warms to 0deg at approx 50km and the boundary with the Mesosphere, in which it again cools before warming to a deep blanket of between 570 – 1570deg in the Ionosphere over the next 800 or so kilometres. I feel that we should not tinker with things that we do not fully understand.
Finally the suggestion of releasing sulphate particles into the stratosphere (approx. 15 – 45km high). Again how is it proposed that we control their position either around the globe or in terms of their placing in the stratosphere? What is the chemical effect of their placement in our upper atmosphere. In general the effects of volcanic eruptions are not welcomed on the surface. Plus if we are intent on blocking the sunlight, then we also reduce the possibility of power from photovoltaic panels. This could push the planet towards nuclear power i.e. the use of a very finite resource and one with a very high invisible risk at every stage of its use from mining through to waste storage.
Please let a wide understanding, of all the mechanisms and needs involved,over-rule uncontrollable geo-engineering and further waste of resources with unknown consequences.

Oct 23, 2010 7:29am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

Photo

California's historic drought

With reservoirs at record lows, California is in the midst of the worst drought in decades.  Slideshow