An interesting emerging development in the context of climate geoengineering is the potential assertion of jurisdiction over such operations by a number of different international regimes, and the possibility of conflicting mandates. For example, in 2007, the Parties to the International Maritime Organization’s London Convention issued a decision asserting jurisdiction over ocean iron fertilization activities and urging the Parties to restrict such operations to small-scale activities. In 2008, the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity passed a resolution calling upon its Parties to adhere to the London Convention decision, but arguably going further by urging its Parties to restrict fertilization operations to coastal areas and requesting that the Parties not allow such operations to generate or sell carbon offsets, or for other commercial purposes.
Last week, the CBD’s Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice issued a draft recommendation that calls on the CBD’s Parties to go further, essentially banning all climate geoengineering operations until certain scientific criteria are met:
(w) [Ensure, in line and consistent with decision IX/16 C, on ocean fertilization and biodiversity and climate change, and in accordance with the precautionary approach, that no climate-related geo-engineering activities take place until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities and appropriate consideration of the associated risks for the environment and biodiversity and associated social, economic and cultural impacts;
The resolution is extremely vague in several aspects, including criteria for developing “an adequate scientific basis” to justify geoengineering activities (would the risk assessment procedure being developed by the Parties to the London Convention, for example, fit the bill?), as well as what constitutes an “activity” (does this include, for example, modeling, lab-based experiments?). However, assuming the CBD Parties adopt this recommendation, it could severely restrict climate geoengineering research.
Several interesting issues could be raised with students in this context:
- Is the CBD an (the) appropriate regime to regulate geoengineering activities?. What other regimes might be more appropriate?
- If there is a potential conflict between the regulatory approach of the CBD and other regimes, how would one resolve such conflicts under international law?;
- Are risk assessment protocols adequate in the context of geoengineering?