The Big Bad Fix

ETC Group, BiofuelWatch and Heinrich Boell Foundation present a comprehensive argument against geoengineering in this report.

Click here to download the full report (pdf)

As a rapidly warming world manifests heat waves, floods, droughts and hurricanes, geoengineering – large-scale manipulation of the Earth’s natural systems – is being presented as a strategy to counteract, dilute or delay climate change without disrupting energy- and resource-intensive economies. Alarmingly, current debates about this big techno-fix are limited to a small group of self-proclaimed experts reproducing undemocratic worldviews and technocratic, reductionist perspectives. Developing countries, indigenous peoples, and local communities are excluded and left voiceless.

As this report details, each of the proposed geoengineering technologies threatens people and ecosystems. Holistic assessments of the technologies also show that if deployed they are highly likely to worsen rather than mitigate the impacts of global warming.

The irreversibility, risk of weaponization, and implications for global power dynamics inherent in large-scale climate geoengineering also make it an unacceptable option.

Critical Geoengineering Activities at COP 23

If you’re in Bonn for the UN Climate Conference for the next few weeks, mark your calendars for the following side events from civil society critical of climate geoengineering:

Geoengineering, technofixes and radical emission reductions” 

Hosted by Heinrich Böll Foundation

When? Monday, Nov 6, 2017, 2:30-4:30 pm

Where? Peoples‘ Climate Summit/Gustav-Stresemann-Institut

The risks of Bioenergy and Biosequestration in the context of CDR” 

Hosted by Global Forest Coalition

When? Tuesday, Nov 7, 2017, 9:30-12:00 noon

Where? Peoples‘ Climate Summit/Wissenschaftszentrum, Bonn

The case against geoengineering: How to build a fair future in a 1.5 degree world” 

Hosted by Heinrich Böll Foundation, BUND/FoE-Germany/Misereor

When? Wednesday Nov 15, 2017, 1-2pm

Where? Talanoa Space, Bonn Zone

“Geoengineering the Climate? Sustainable development and climate justice in a 1.5°C world” 

Hosted by Heinrich Böll Foundation and ETC Group

When? Friday, Nov 17, 2017, 11:30am – 1pm

Where? German Development Institute/DIE Interconnections  Zone

Climate Engineering Conference 2017: a CSO perspective

By Oli Munnion (Biofuelwatch)

The Climate Engineering Conference 2017 aimed to “bring together the research, policy, and civic communities to discuss the highly complex and interlinked ethical, social and technical issues related to climate engineering.” In practice, the conference represented a concerted effort to normalise geoengineering among researchers, scientists and policy-makers, focusing almost solely on the technical and engineering challenges, and neglecting the social and ethical aspects.

Civil society representation felt largely tokenistic, with an unapologetic promotion of various forms of geoengineering research throughout the 4 days of events. The conference highlighted just how urgent it is for civil society to reject geoengineering publicly, and to bring this clique of academics and policy-makers back in line with global thinking on the subject.

Speaking and presenting slots were dominated by men from countries in the global North, to the extent that at least one panel discussion was entirely populated by men from either the US or Europe. The lack of diversity amongst the presenters reflected just how problematic it is that research into geoengineering techniques that will affect everyone, and in the global South disproportionately, is largely taking place in countries responsible for the greatest historical contributions to climate change.

The dominant discourse from academics and researchers was that they didn’t want to geoengineer the climate, but that if other forms of mitigation fail (i.e. drastic emissions reductions), the world needs to know whether geoengineering can step in, and if so, how to use it. In the case of solar radiation management (SRM) research, academics want to “know now if it’s not going to work“, so that we know whether it can be relied upon in the future. And if it can’t be relied on, then we know that we really do have to seriously reduce emissions instead. Read more about why experiments of one type of geoengineering are unwise and unethical here.

There were also two distinct camps of geoengineers – the “solar radiation management” geoengineers, who come across as your stereotypical ‘mad scientists,’ and who really don’t want to live in a geoengineered world but just can’t stop themselves from researching it. And the “carbon dioxide removal” geoengineers, who don’t consider themselves geoengineers and scoff at the irresponsible ideas of the SRM camp. The similarity they share is the belief that “carbon dioxide removal” or “negative emissions,” through technologies such as “bioenergy with carbon capture and storage” and “direct air capture,” will be essential mitigation strategies if catastrophic climate change is to be avoided. The promotion of these seemingly more benign forms of geoengineering from this section of the scientific community is very dangerous as it gives governments and industry another excuse to delay making essential emissions reductions, even though the technologies don’t exist yet, and are unlikely ever to.

In summary, the conference tried to normalise geoengineering as a response to climate change, both as a mitigation strategy (alongside emissions reductions) and as a “fail safe” in the event of mitigation not working.

Geoengineering is an unjust and inequitable solution to climate change, especially when its research, governance and deployment are in the hands of those most responsible for it. Climate change is not an engineering problem, it is a symptom of the multiple, deep-rooted crises that pervade human societies and the planet. The promotion of geoengineering is therefore very much part of the problem, and not the solution.

Highlights of the conference: 

CEC17 press briefing (video), 10 October 2017, which set the tone for the conference and highlighted key narratives and areas for debate.

 

Speakers were David Keith, Professor of Applied Physics and Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, Mark Lawrence, Scientific Director at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), Lili Fuhr, Head of the Ecology and Sustainable Development Department at the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Pablo Suarez, Associate Director for Research and Innovation at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.

CSO-led Sessions: 

Linda Schneider from Heinrich Böll Foundation introduces delegates to the new Interactive Map of Geoengineering Experiments

A change of course: Radical emission reduction pathways to stay under 1.5°C

Climate change is not an engineering problem. There are many viable alternatives to bring our societies on a pathway towards 1.5°C without geoengineering. A technofix mentality and powerful vested interests prevent us from implementing them. This session will explore how we can change course for a climate-just future.

Linda Schneider – Heinrich Böll Foundation , Lili Fuhr – Heinrich Böll Foundation & ETC Group

Barbara Unmüßig – Heinrich Böll Foundation , Karin Nansen – Friends of the Earth International , Silvia Ribeiro – ETC Group , Uwe Leprich – German Federal Environment Agency , Bernd Nilles – Fastenopfer – Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund

Social Movements & Climate Engineering Justice from the Periphery

Debate around the justice of geoengineering has often, implicitly or explicitly, assumed the perspective of high-emitting groups that are disproportionately responsible for geoengineering research. We should re-orient our normative thinking regarding climate engineering research, governance, and deployment to include the agency and perspectives of the global South and subaltern groups. We will convene global representatives from diverse social movements to lead intersectional discussions on what geoengineering means for racial and environmental justice, food sovereignty, youth, gender, health and global justice as well as climate justice.

Patrick Taylor-Smith – National University Singapore , Jim Thomas – ETC Group , Duncan McLaren – Lancaster Environment Centre

David Morrow – American University & Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment , Aniruddh Mohan – Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy , Octavio Rosas-Landa – National University Mexico , Nnimmo Bassey – Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)

 

 

ETC Group and Heinrich Böll Foundation release interactive world map of geoengineering experiments

In an attempt to shed light on the worldwide state of geoengineering, ETC Group and Heinrich Böll Foundation have launched an interactive world map of geoengineering experiments, available at: https://map.geoengineeringmonitor.org/

The map is necessarily partial, as there is no complete record of weather and climate control projects, and builds on an earlier map of Earth Systems Experimentation published in 2012. That original map documented almost 300 projects and experiments related to the field of geoengineering.

Five years later, over 800 such projects can be identified. These include projects in Carbon Capture, Solar Radiation Management, Weather Modification and other approaches.

The geoengineering fallacy

By Barbara Unmüssig. Source: Project Syndicate

Photo: Eric Kayne

BERLIN – As the world struggles to rein in emissions of climate-changing gases and limit planetary warming, a new technological silver bullet is gaining supporters. Geoengineering –the large-scale manipulation of the Earth’s natural systems – has been popularized as a means of counteracting the negative effects of climate change.

Proponents of this science feed the illusion that there is a way to engineer an exit from the climate crisis, meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, and maintain a consumption-heavy lifestyle.

But this solution is not as simple as proponents would have us believe. Betting on climate engineering – either as a planetary insurance policy or as a last-ditch measure to combat rising temperatures – is not only risky; it also directs attention away from the only solution we know will work: reducing carbon emissions.

Each of the engineered technologies being discussed carries dangers and uncertainties. For example, the only way to test the effectiveness of solar radiation management (SRM) on a global scale would be to carry out experiments in the environment – either by spraying particles into the stratosphere, or by artificially modifying clouds. While such tests would be designed to determine whether SRM could reflect enough sunlight to cool the planet, experimentation itself could cause irreversible damage. Current models predict that SRM deployment would alter global precipitation patterns, damage the ozone layer, and undermine the livelihoods of millions of people.

Beyond the ecological risks, critics warn that, once deployed globally, SRM could spawn powerful weapons, giving states, corporations, or individuals the ability to manipulate climate for strategic gain (an idea that not even Hollywood can resist). But perhaps the most important criticism is a political one: in a world of challenged multilateralism, how would global ecological interventions be governed?

Similar questions surround the other major group of climate engineering technologies under debate – so-called carbon dioxide removal (CDR). Proponents of these technologies propose removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it underground or in the oceans. Some CDR approaches are already prohibited, owing to concerns about possible environmental consequences. For example, fertilization of oceans with carbon-sequestering plankton was banned by the London Protocol on marine pollution in 2008. Parties to that decision worried about the potential damage to marine life.

But other CDR approaches are gaining support. One of the most discussed ideas aims to integrate biomass with carbon capture and storage (CCS) techniques. Called “bioenergy with CCS,” or BECCS, this method seeks to pair the CO2-absorption capabilities of fast-growing plants with underground CO2 storage methods. Proponents argue that BECCS would actually yield “negative” emissions.

Yet, as with other engineered solutions, the promises are simply too good to be true. For example, huge amounts of energy, water, and fertilizer would be required to operate BECCS systems successfully. The effects on land use would likely lead to terrestrial species losses, and increase land competition and displacement of local populations. Some forecasts even suggest that the land clearing and construction activities associated with these projects could lead to a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions, at least in the short term.

Then there is the issue of scale. In order for BECCS to achieve emissions limits set by the Paris agreement, between 430 million and 580 million hectares (1.1 billion to 1.4 billion acres) of land would be needed to grow the required vegetation. That is a staggering one third of the world’s arable land.

Simply put, there are safer – and proven – ways to withdraw CO2 from the atmosphere. Rather than creating artificial CO2-binding “farms,” governments should focus on protecting already-existing natural ecosystems and allowing degraded ones to recover. Rainforests, oceans, and peatlands (such as bogs) have immense CO2 storage capacities and do not require untested technological manipulation.

By pushing unproven technologies as a cure for all climate-changing ills, proponents are suggesting that the world faces an unavoidable choice: geoengineering or disaster. But this is disingenuous. Political preferences, not scientific or ecological necessity, explain the appeal of geoengineering.

Unfortunately, current debates about climate engineering are undemocratic and dominated by technocratic worldviews, natural science and engineering perspectives, and vested interests in the fossil-fuel industries. Developing countries, indigenous peoples, and local communities must be given a prominent voice, so that all risks can be fully considered before any geoengineering technology is tested or implemented.

So what conversation should we be having about geoengineering?

For starters, we need to rethink the existing governance landscape. In 2010, parties to the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) agreed to a de facto international moratorium on climate-related geoengineering. But today, with powerful advocates generating so much pressure to bring geoengineering technologies out of the lab, informal bans are no longer sufficient. The world urgently needs an honest debate on the research, deployment, and governance of these technologies; the CBD and the London Protocol are essential starting points for these governance discussions.

Among the technologies that require the most scrutiny are CDR projects that threaten indigenous lands, food security, and water availability. Such large-scale technological schemes must be regulated diligently, to ensure that climate-change solutions do not adversely affect sustainable development or human rights.

In addition, the outdoor testing and deployment of SRM technologies, because of their potential to weaken human rights, democracy, and international peace, should be banned outright. This ban should be overseen by a robust and accountable multilateral global governance mechanism.

No silver bullet for climate change has yet been found. And while geoengineering technologies remain mostly aspirational, there are proven mitigation options that can and should be implemented vigorously. These include scaling up renewable energy, phasing out fossil fuels (including an early retirement of existing fossil infrastructure), wider diffusion of sustainable agroecological agriculture, and increased energy and resource input into our economy.

We cannot afford to gamble with the future of our planet. If we engage in a serious discussion about ecologically sustainable and socially just measures to protect the Earth’s climate, there will be no need to roll the dice on geoengineering.

Workshop: Geoengineering from a degrowth and climate justice perspective

Workshop materials. Photo: Linda Schneider

In late August, the annual climate camp drew several thousand climate activists to the German brown coal mining region of Rheinland for a full week of workshops, panel discussions and fruitful exchange.

The climate justice movement also took to the streets – or rather: to the coalmines.  For the third time, the direct action campaign Ende Gelände organised mass actions of civil disobedience, blockading coalfields and train tracks – climate protection on the ground!

We at Heinrich Böll Foundation took the opportunity to discuss geoengineering from a Degrowth and climate justice perspective with a group of 30 people in a 4-day course at the Degrowth summer school.

After an introduction to the idea of geoengineering, the different technologies and the associated risks and impacts, we developed a critique of the concept of geoengineering as well as individual technologies from a broad Degrowth perspective, one that incorporates climate and resource justice, human rights concerns and is sensitive to global power structures and their reproduction through large-scale technofixes.

From a Degrowth perspective it is clear that real solutions are radical emissions reduction pathways that transcend mainstream economic thinking. Greenhouse gas emissions are inextricably linked to economic growth, high-consumption lifestyles and the exploitation of natural resources – a radical response to the socioecological crises we’re facing implies a deep transformation of social and economic structures and power relations in our societies, including the adherence to perpetual economic growth.

From a degrowth-based critique of geoengineering, we derived a set of criteria that technologies should satisfy to qualify as helpful for a climate-just 1.5°C world. To only mention a few – they should be low-risk, reversible and controllable, they should not compromise biodiversity, human and land rights, and adopt a holistic perspective that does not push concerns for human rights and ecosystem integrity aside. And: They must not serve as excuses for continuing fossil emissions!

There is a whole range of such technologies and approaches, that also have the co-benefit of drawing down CO2, such as the careful restoration of the world’s ecosystems: rainforests, moors and oceans, and the transformation of industrial agriculture towards locally adapted agroecology and peasant agriculture.

The conversation about geoengineering in the climate justice movement is only just beginning – we will continue fostering this conversation at this year’s Peoples’ Climate Summit in Bonn (November 3-7, 2017) in the context of COP23: We will hold an open capacity-building workshop on geoengineering – we’ll keep you posted about the exact date and location!

UN Convention still says “No” to manipulating the climate

Kevin Gill/Flickr CCby ETC Group

UN Convention on Biological Diversity reaffirms its moratorium on climate-related geoengineering

CANCUN, MEXICO – The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which gathered at its 13th Conference of the Parties (COP 13) in Mexico from December 4-17, decided to reaffirm its landmark moratorium on climate-related geoengineering that it first agreed to in 2010.

Geoengineering refers to a set of proposed techniques that would intervene in and alter earth systems on a large scale – recently, these proposals have been gaining traction as a “technofix” solution to climate change. Examples include solar radiation management techniques such as blasting sulphate particles into the atmosphere as well as other earth systems interventions grouped under a second broad umbrella of ‘carbon dioxide removal.’

The reaffirmation of the CBD moratorium is even more relevant in the light of the Paris Agreement on climate change, in which governments agreed to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. Geoengineers quickly interpreted the Paris Agreement as allowing or encouraging geoengineering to meet that ambitious goal.

“The decision to reaffirm the global moratorium on geoengineering is an important message for those who are now promoting it as shortcut to achieve the Paris Agreement goals. Geoengineering schemes will impact the global commons and will have transboundary impacts that could be worse than climate change,” said Silvia Ribeiro, Latin America Director of ETC Group. “The CBD made a landmark decision on 2010 to halt the deployment of geoengineering because of its potential widespread negative impacts on people and biodiversity, and that decision holds firm.”

“Climate change and biodiversity erosion are both acute interrelated global problems that demand urgent attention and action,” said Neth Daño, Asia Director of ETC Group. “However, climate geoengineering proposals are a set of unproven techno-fixes that do not address the root causes of either climate change or biodiversity loss, and could deviate attention and resources from real, affordable, safe, and globally much more fair alternatives.”

The CBD decision noted also that the potential impacts of geoengineering on biodiversity and ecosystem functions, as well as on socio-economic and cultural/ethical issues have not been studied. This is one of the main conclusions in the updated report on the impacts on geoengineering on biodiversity that was organized by the CBD. “Taking the precautionary approach is the least the UN can do,” said Silvia Ribeiro.

In a 2016 article in Nature, Phil Williamson, the coordinator of that report, highlighted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which released the largest climate change report to date in 2014, “[…] leaves out one crucial consideration: the environmental impacts of large-scale CO2 removal. This omission is striking because the set of IPCC emissions scenarios that are likely to limit the increase in global surface temperature to 2C by 2100 […] mostly relies on large-scale CO2 removal.”[i]

Specifically, the IPCC did not look at the environmental or biodiversity impacts of their favoured technique: BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage) or of other so called “negative emissions” technologies. Furthermore, recent scientific studies also show that these proposals are not technically or economically viable, but would imply large impacts on biodiversity and traditional livelihoods.[ii]

“The reaffirmation of the CBD moratorium on geoengineering, taken by consensus of 196 governments, is a wake-up call for the governments considering these dangerous proposals” said Jim Thomas, Programme Director at ETC Group. “It was a mature decision not only to protect biodiversity, but also to prevent the few and powerful actors that want geoengineering from taking control of the global thermostat.”

The decision also emphasised that indigenous peoples and local communities’ knowledge must be taken into account. “There are plenty of proven viable, sustainable, culturally and economically viable solutions to stop both the erosion of biodiversity and climate change, such as peasant agriculture, that need attention and support instead of high-tech, high-risk false solutions such as geoengineering” said Silvia Ribeiro.

Geoengineering has been a topic of discussion in the CBD for almost a decade and in 2008, the CBD issued a moratorium on ocean fertilization. Therefore, the geoengineering decision in COP 13 was preceded by longer debates in the CBD’s subsidiary scientific body (SBSTTA) and previous COPs creating high level of agreement, and as such was not a hotly debated topic in Cancun.

###

Note to editors:

The full decision of the CBD can be found here: https://www.cbd.int/doc/meetings/cop/cop-13/in-session/cop-13-l-04-en.pdf

An eight-page briefing on geoengineering and the CBD can be found here: http://www.etcgroup.org/sites/www.etcgroup.org/files/files/final_geoengineering_brief_cop_13_web.pdf

Expert Contacts:

Silvia Ribeiro: +52 1 55 2653 3330, silvia@etcgroup.org

Neth Dano: +63 917 532 9369, neth@etcgroup.org

Jim Thomas: +1 (514) 516-5759, jim@etcgroup.org

Communications Contact:
Trudi Zundel: +1 (226) 979-0993, trudi@etcgroup.org

[i] Williamson, Phil. “Emissions reduction: Scrutinize CO2 removal methods.” Nature. 530, no. 7589 (2016): 153. http://www.nature.com/news/emissions-reduction-scrutinize-co2-removal-methods-1.19318

[ii] Kevin Anderson and Glen Peters, “The trouble with negative emissions.” Science, October 2016.

Almuth Ernsting and Oliver Munnion, “Last Ditch Climate Option or Wishful Thinking? Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage.” Biofuelwatch report, November 2015. http://www.wri.org/publication/avoiding-bioenergy-competition-food-crops-and-land

Tim Searchinger and Ralph Heimlich, “Avoiding Bioenergy Competition for Food Crops and Land.” January 2015. Creating a Sustainable Food Future, Installment Nine. http://www.nature.com/news/emissions-reduction-scrutinize-co2-removal-methods-1.19318

 

Sign-on letter: No to 1.5°C with geoengineering!

contaminacionParis, 11 December 2015

Seemingly out of the blue (or rather, out of the black smog of the UNFCCC process), some of the largest historical culprits for climate change, countries including the United States, Canada and the European Union, have decided to back an “ambitious goal” of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C. To achieve this, radical emissions cuts would be needed from now, but in the case of these countries, that’s not their real intention.

Instead, behind the smokescreen of a more ambitious goal, there is a set of Trojan Horse technologies being proposed, collectively called “geoengineering”.

The new proponents of the 1.5°C goal include also the largest oil companies. (*) They tell us that they can continue to burn fossil carbon and protect their assets because they are inventing something called Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) that will eventually capture CO2 emissions and store them “safely” in deep geological formations.

And, further still, they say that they can develop bioenergy with CCS (BECCS), a so-called “negative emissions” technology that will burn carbon that is locked up in the soils and forests, and bury this underground too. These are false “solutions” proposed by the oil industry, that will allow it to keep polluting in the false hope that future technological innovation can bring down emissions at a later date.

These phantom technologies won’t function, but they will bring vast new subsidies to the industry, and allow it to access even more oil through Enhanced Oil Recovery, where CO2 is pumped into aging oil fields to squeeze even more out of them. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) was called Enhanced Oil Recovery before, but it has been renamed as a “climate technology”.

The expansion of large scale plantations for bioenergy will be devastating for ecosystems, and displace forest and peasant communities from their territories. This will destroy many of the real alternatives to climate crisis, alternatives that really cool the planet.

In a few years, when efforts to reduce emissions and the technological quick-fixes have failed, with the temperature continuing to rise, industry and government will tell us that the only way out is “solar radiation management”, an even more dangerous geoengineering technology.

The terminology underpinning this cover-up is changing rapidly: from “net zero” to “climate neutrality”, to “net GHG contributions” and now in the latest COP21 draft to “greenhouse gas emissions neutrality”. They are all the same trap designed to open the door to false climate solutions and geoengineering.

 

No to 1.5°C with geoengineering!

No to the lie of “GHG neutrality”!

 

(*) See Shell’s position on 1.5°C and geoengineering at COP21: http://blogs.shell.com/climatechange/category/paris-cop21/

 

International Organizations

ETC Group

Biofuelwatch

Corporate Europe Observatory

Focus on the Global South

Food and Water Watch

GRAIN

Grasroots Global Justice Alliance

Heinrich Böll Foundation

Transnational Institute

Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF)

Women’s earth and climate action network (WECAN)

World Rainforest Movement

 

National organizations
Acción Ecológica, Ecuador

ATTAC, France

Centro Ecológico, Brasil

Ecologistas en Acción, Spain

Fairwatch, Italy

Friends of the Siberian Forests, Russia

Fundación Solon, Bolivia

Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nigeria

NoGeoingegneria, Italy

Plataforma Freskiemos el ambiente, Colombia

Polaris Institute, Canada

The Corner House, UK

 

To add your signature, please send a message to silvia@etcgroup.org

“Geoengineering is unjust, unproven and risky”: Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Tuesday, the National Academy of Sciences released two reports on climate intervention through geoengineering. These reports assess two categories of geoengineering: carbon dioxide removal and sequestration and albedo modification. Although the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity agreed upon a moratorium on geoengineering in 2010, reports such as these indicate that momentum has not slowed and that some continue to grasp at these techno-fixes as viable options to combat climate change.

Geoengineering is the intentional, large-scale technological manipulation of the Earth’s systems, including systems related to climate. These technologies generally fall under three broad areas: albedo modification (solar radiation management such as cloud whitening and covering deserts with reflective plastics), carbon dioxide removal and sequestration (such as ocean fertilization, biochar, and carbon extraction machines), and weather modification (such as cloud seeding and storm modification).

The following is a statement from Friends of the Earth Climate and Energy Program Director Ben Schreiber:

Friends of the Earth is committed to fighting climate change through sustainable and just solutions. While we agree that the current level of greenhouse gas emissions leaves us vulnerable to climate chaos, geoengineering will take us in the wrong direction. It serves as a dangerous distraction from the crucial discussions and actions that need to take place to mitigate and adapt to climate disruption.

Geoengineering presumes that we can apply a dramatic technological fix to climate disruption. Instead of facing the reality that we need to drastically reduce our carbon emissions, lower our consumption levels and rapidly transition to renewable energy, some hope to simply reengineer the climate, the land and the oceans to theoretically slow down and reverse climate disruption.

Geoengineering is an attempt by those most responsible for climate disruption to continue polluting instead of committing to the necessary actions and funding needed to help those countries and communities that will be most harmed by climate change.

The side effects of geoengineering interventions are unknown and untested. In order to have any noticeable impact on global temperatures, geoengineering projects would have to be deployed on a massive, global scale. These “experiments” would not only take action in the absence of scientific consensus, hence violating the precautionary principle, but could also easily have unintended consequences due to mechanical failure, human error, inadequate understanding of ecosystems, biodiversity and the Earth’s climate, unforeseen natural phenomena, irreversibility or funding interruptions.

These experiments also violate the 2010 moratorium established by the 193 countries who are parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity due to uncertainty around geoengineering’s environmental, social, cultural, and economic risks. The UN Environmental Modification Treaty has prohibited the hostile uses of environmental modification since 1976.

Only the few wealthy nations, elite citizens and corporations with immense funding and technology at their disposal could conduct geoengineering experiments. One country’s experiments, therefore, could have devastating effects on other countries and the global climate system.

Geoengineering conflicts with sustainable and just solutions to the climate crisis. Real climate justice requires dealing with root causes of climate change, not launching risky, unproven and unjust schemes. Friends of the Earth supports the current moratorium agreed upon through the Convention on Biological Diversity and would condemn any proposals to move geoengineering towards real world experimentation.

Plan B? What Happened to Plan A?

Why we shouldn’t fund geoengineering experimentation, and what we still need to learn about the climate

by Pat Mooney (ETC Group)

The US National Academy of Sciences has released two reports on geoengineering that recommend investments in solar radiation management (SRM) and carbon capture and storage (CCS). Geoengineering has become known as the US government’s “Plan B” response to climate change. Geoengineering proponents have recently pushed for government funding of geoengineering research in Nature and the Washington Post.

At first glance, this seems prudent: of course we should have more information about all of the options. Most geoengineering backers insist that these are only extreme measures of last resort. SRM (now rebranded as “albedo management” by the NAS report) which proposes blowing sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to block sunlight and lower global temperatures or CCS, which proposes to stuff billions of tonnes of CO2 into defunct mines and oil wells, are Plan B: only to be considered if governments can’t agree on emission targets in Paris later this year. Is geoengineering deplorable or deployable? We won’t know, backers argue, unless we do the research.

Plan B?

Saying we need more information sounds reasonable, but geoengineering research that involves experimentation and builds actual hardware is a clear and present danger to the climate for two reasons. If the US or other powerful governments accept geoengineering as a plausible “Plan B,” Plan A will evaporate faster than Congressional bipartisanship. The fossil fuel industry is desperate to protect between $20 and $28 trillion in booked assets that can only be extracted if the corporations are allowed to overshoot GHG-emissions. The theoretical assumption that carbon capture and storage will eventually let them recapture CO2 from the atmosphere and bury it in the earth or ocean provides the fossil fuel industry with the best way to avoid popping the “carbon bubble” other than outright climate denial. Spraying sulfates in the stratosphere can – theoretically – lower temperatures until carbon capture and storage techniques are viable. In other words, geoengineering research is becoming the only tool the fossil fuel industry has left to undermine the political and corporate will to lower actual emissions now.

Geoengineering could justify continued emissions, but it may also do direct damage to the climate. The two NAS reports are quiet about budgets and don’t define the scale of field studies. Most scientists concur that geoengineering is extremely risky, but also say that only very large field trials will yield useful data. Experimentation, in other words, equals hardware development and effective deployment. We already have examples: between 1993 and 2009, 11 governments conducted a dozen geoengineering experiments in international waters to see if spreading iron particles on the surface of the ocean could lead to the sequestering of carbon dioxide on the ocean floor. The first experiments dumped iron into 50-60 km² of ocean. When that didn’t work, they increased the surface area six-fold until the final 2009 dump was 300 km². It still failed. The geoengineers wanted bigger experiments, but three different UN conferences intervened and have effectively banned ocean fertilization. Sagely, the NAS report now concludes that ocean fertilization “is an immature technology whose high costs and technical and environmental risks currently outweigh the benefits.”

NAS also talks about the need for governance but only in the context of the United States. Stratospheric aerosol spraying can be undertaken by one country or a “Coalition of the Willing,” even though the impact will be global. For this reason, the United Nations must be in charge.

What about Plan A?

There is much that scientists don’t know about planetary systems. The acknowledged gaps in Plan A research have widened from a crevice to a chasm to a canyon. It would be extraordinarily foolhardy for policymakers to advance Plan B before Plan A’s research issues are addressed.

It is difficult, for example, to establish Plan A emission targets (or, for that matter, Plan B’s levels of stratospheric aerosol spraying) when governments don’t disclose their current emissions. China underreported its annual GHG emissions by about 20%, while the USA’s recent emission reductions aren’t quite what they’re fracked up to be. America cut back its emissions to 1992 levels because fracking lowered the demand for coal – but the coal was still burned overseas. The UK’s 14% reductions (between 1990 and 2008) in greenhouse gas emissions were erased by its 20% increase in emissions from outsourced manufacturing. With the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian emissions dropped 10 – 14% but only because farmland was temporarily abandoned.

How can we pursue “climate interventions” and call them scientific if governments don’t get the data right?

Governments have also had difficulties keeping track of their biomass, with implications for Plan B’s carbon capture and storage strategies. According to a UNEP report, up to 30% of all timber exports are mafia-controlled and 90% of tropical deforestation is due to illegal trade – making biomass calculations problematic. Meanwhile, India overestimated its forest cover by about 10%.

Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand have all flip-flopped on their emission commitments while the UK has cut back its renewable energy support. The EU’s carbon credit scheme is a laughingstock. This makes Plan A’s emission goals – or the levels of Plan B’s stratospheric aerosol interventions – subject to unexpected and dangerous changes.

Plan A and Plan B both need cutting-edge monitoring of planetary systems. However, by 2020, the number of civilian US climate monitoring satellites could drop from 23 to 6 and the number of monitoring instruments from 90 to 20. Monitoring is weakest over the Indian subcontinent and apparently deteriorating throughout the tropics. In 2014, for example, scientists discovered that an important swath of the Brazilian Amazon has been completely missed by satellites. The Economist called this “willful blindness.”

Recently, science has uncovered a vast deep-ocean “river”, a bacterial prairie the size of Greece beneath the Humboldt current, and reconsidered the impact of sulphates on cloud formation in polar regions that could significantly alter Plan B proposals for carbon sequestration or solar radiation management.

Money is indeed needed for climate change research. Governments should pony up and scientists should get to work. But the NAS needs to flatly condemn the deployment or hardware testing of dangerous technologies that have consequences for the whole planet.”

NAS support for geoengineering research creates a political space that could lead multinational oil companies and their governments off the hook. Precisely at the moment when climate denial is losing steam, it’s crucial to prevent it from being replaced with unicorn-like fantasies of magical technologies that allow the status quo to continue.

Pat Mooney is the Executive Director of ETC Group.