Asilomar Conference on Climate Geoengineering

Last week, 175 experts from a wide array of disciplines convened at the Asilomar conference center in Pacific Grove, California for the International Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies. I attended the meeting also and was impressed by the passion of the participants and the common resolve to approach climate geoengineering with the levels of humility that it necessarily warrants. Of course, one cannot be certain that the policymakers who would ultimately make the decisions in this context would do the same, and one of my primary concerns remains the potential moral hazard issue, i.e., assuming arguendo, that geoengineering technologies proved effective, would policymakers take their foot off the pedal (even though the pressure is pretty minimal currently) in terms of mitigation?

The first deliverable from the conference is the Statement from the Conference’s Organizing Committee.

The key points of the Statement are as follows:

  1. The risks posed by climate change require strong commitments to mitigation, adaptation to unavoidable climate change, and development of low-carbon energy sources. This needs to be done independently of any consideration of potential deployment of climate engineering schemes;
  2. It’s important to initiate further research on potential climate geoengineering options given the limited mitigation response to date and uncertainties of the climate system to further forcing. Relevant strategies include solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal, which fall under the broad rubrics of “climate intervention methods” and “climate remediation methods;”
  3. We lack sufficient knowledge of the risks associated with climate intervention and remediation procedures or their potential efficacy, necessitating further research;
  4. Governments collectively have the ultimate responsibility for climate intervention and remediation decisions; the decision-making process must involve broader public participation. Research should progress in a “timely, safe, ethical and transparent manner, addressing social, humanitarian and environmental issues.”

It is anticipated that a report on the meeting will follow, and I will make sure to report on this also. The lead organizer of the meeting, the Climate Response Fund, has also posted a number of excellent articles on climate engineering on its website.

Potential Ecosystem Impacts of Ocean Acidification

Contact: Laura Udakis

Society for General Microbiology

Ecosystems under threat from ocean acidification

Acidification of the oceans as a result of increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide could have significant effects on marine ecosystems, according to Michael Maguire presenting at the Society for General Microbiology’s spring meeting in Edinburgh this week.

Postgraduate researcher Mr Maguire, together with colleagues at Newcastle University, performed experiments in which they simulated ocean acidification as predicted by current trends of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The group found that the decrease in ocean pH (increased acidity) resulted in a sharp decline of a biogeochemically important group of bacteria known as the Marine Roseobacter clade. “This is the first time that a highly important bacterial group has been observed to decline in significant numbers with only a modest decrease in pH,” said Mr Maguire.

The Marine Roseobacter clade is responsible for breaking down a sulphur compound called dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) that is produced by photosynthesising plankton. This end product is taken up and used by numerous bacteria as an important source of sulphur. A fraction of DMSP is turned into Dimethylsulfide (DMS) – a naturally occurring gas that influences the Earth’s climate. DMS encourages the formation of clouds which reflect solar radiation back into space leading to a cooling of the earth’s surface.

Mr Maguire’s group hypothesizes that the decline of the Marine Roseobacter clade through ocean acidification may alter the release of DMS into the atmosphere and affect the amount of available sulphur. He believes this will have a significant impact on the ocean’s productivity and the overall global climate system. “Ocean acidification will not only have large scale consequences for marine ecosystems but also socio-economical consequences due to changes in fish stocks and erosion of coral reefs,” he explained.

LEAD journal issue on climate change

The Law, Environment and Development Journal (LEAD Journal) is a peer-reviewed academic publication based in New Delhi and London and jointly managed by the School of Law of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) – University of London and the International Environmental Law Research Centre (IELRC). LEAD is published biannually at

I am happy to inform you that a special issue of LEAD Journal on Climate Change  (volume 6/1) has been published at

With best regards

Jessy Thomas

Managing Editor, LEAD Journal

Another blow to the skeptics: Warming Hasn’t Stopped

In a paper to be submitted for peer review, NASA scientists say that the
planet has not experienced a cooling trend in the last decade, as some
have claimed.
22 Mar 2010: NASA Study Concludes
That No Cooling Evident in Past Decade
A comprehensive analysis of global air and sea temperatures by NASA
climatologists shows that the planet has not experienced a cooling trend
in the past decade and is continuing to warm at a rate of about .3
degrees F per decade. The NASA scientists, affiliated with the Goddard
Institute for Space

Goddard Institute for Space Studies Global warming trends
Studies, said the warming trend has continued despite the sun’s
irradiative power being at one of its lowest points in a century. The
preliminary study, which NASA scientist James Hansen said will be
submitted soon to a peer-reviewed scientific journal, said that only one
of the past 10 winters and two of the past 10 summers were cooler than
the long-term average in recent decades. And despite a snowy winter in
the eastern U.S. and parts of Europe, 2010 is shaping up to be perhaps
the hottest year on record, the NASA scientists concluded after looking
at EL Nino conditions and other global weather patterns. The NASA
analysis refutes a study by well-respected atmospheric scientist Susan
Solomon and her colleagues at the National Center for Atmospheric
Research. That study claimed that the trend in global surface
temperatures “has been nearly flat since the 1990s” — a
contention the NASA scientists say is refuted by the latest data.

Society for Law and Economics

The Second Annual Meeting of the Society for Law and Economics is ongoing.  This year’s conference is hosted by Emory Law School and includes several papers/presentations on climate change.  Details are available here.

UNDP Study on Copenhagen

UNDP recently commissioned The Outcomes of Copenhagen — The Negotiations & The Accord to evaluate the substantive results of the Copenhagen climate talks, including the status of the negotiations on key issues under the formal negotiating tracks and the provisions of the Copenhagen Accord. The document has been authored by Alina Averchenkova, a senior analyst with First Climate, and was peer reviewed by an international team of experts. The document is currently available in English. French, Spanish and Russian translations will be forthcoming shortly.

This is the latest in the Climate Policy Series of the UNDP Environment & Energy Group (EEG). The other documents in the series are:

  • Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions: Issues for Consideration (2009). Available in English.
  • Financing Under the Bali Road Map: Designing, Governing, and Delivering Funds (2009). Available in English.
  • The Bali Road Map: Key Issues Under Negotiation (2008). Available in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, and Chinese.

To download all of these documents, please go here:

These resources were all prepared under the EEG global project, Capacity Development for Policy Makers to Address Climate Change. The project is generously funded by the governments of Norway, Finland, Switzerland, and Spain, and by the United Nations Foundation and UNDP. For more information on the project, please visit The site is available in English, French, Spanish, and Russian.

Rebecca Carman

Project Manager, Capacity Development for Policy Makers to Address Climate Change

Environment & Energy Group

Bureau for Development Policy, UNDP

Tel: 1-212-906 5193

Skype: beccarito

New Study on Private Financing of Adaptation/Mitigation Climate Change Efforts

While the outcome of the 15th COP in Copenhagen was clearly disappointing on a number of levels, one of the most propitious developments was the commitment by developing countries in the Copenhagen Accord to provide $30 billion in short-term (2010-2013) funding, and $100 billion annually in long-term funding by 2020 to meet the adaptation/mitigation needs of developing countries. However, developed States in the past have often abjectly failed to meet such commitments, both in the context of climate change funding and in other areas, e.g. reconstruction aid. The Copenhagen Accord and many independent analysts have acknowledged that the private sector funding may play a critical role in helping to effectuate this commitment. A new statement by the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC), a forum for collaboration on climate change by European investors representing assets of approximately 4 trillion euros, outlines a number of potential avenues for stimulating market-based financing of mitigation/adaptation projects in developing countries, Non-Carbon Market Financing Mechanisms for Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in Developing Countries (2010). The four page publication provides an excellent overview of a topic that I believe is often under-emphasized in climate courses, the potential role of the private sector.

Among the take-aways from the Statement:

  1. Carbon markets and the Clean Development Mechanism will not provide sufficient financial flows to meet all of the mitigation and adaptation needs of developing countries;
  2. While large-scale private investment for mitigation measures in developing countries might be facilitated by the development of the proper institutional framework, most adaptation funding in the immediate future will likely ahve to continue to come from the public sector;
  3. Private investments are already being made by IIGCC members in some of the largest emerging markets, including energy efficiency and biomass power generation in China, ethanol production in Thailand and renewable energy projects in India. However, many investors still perceive these emerging markets as high risk, including the threat the emission reduction targets may be weakened or renewable energy incentives curtailed;
    • An international framework linked to national action plans could be formulated to reduce risk; the international system could register, oversee and review national action plans and offer support and advice to design and implement effective national policies.
  4. Developing countries can optimize their investment environment through policies that foster, inter alia, stability and transparency of the rule of law, develop effective standards of corporate governance, and ensure  the sanctity of contracts;
  5. Public sector initiatives can help to catalyze private sector investments. UNEP’s experience with public financing mechanisms shows leverage rations ranging from 3-15; thus, $10 billion in private funds could leverage $50-150 billion in private investments for mitigation and adaptation activities;
    • Mechanism could include credit lines to local commercial financial institutions, debt financing, private equity funds and technical assistance;
  6. Bonds guaranteed by OECD countries could also generate funds for climate change activities, though the yields would need to be competitive with other government bonds and would need to be liquid. Investors will also expect credible evidence that tangible climate benefits are being delivered.

Some possible discussion questions that might be relevant include the following;

  • Are there any potential downsides to encouraging substantial private investments to address climate change?
  • Given the insistence of developing countries to having mitigation and adaptation assistance funding funneled through multilateral mechanisms which they have substantial input into, how would they likely respond to some of the proposals in the statement?
  • What is the role of the UNFCCC in facilitating the proposals outlined in the Statement?

Climate Change policy contains the seed of its own doom, critics say.

Conventionally policy solutions to the global problem of Climate Change have been dominated by the concept of mitigation, unfortunately this approach contains the seeds of its own doom, critics say.

A mitigation approach is an intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases (IPCC. 2001b), whereas the adaptation strategy; the second approach to tackle Climate Change; is a process to cope with and take advantage of the consequences of Climate Change. Simply put, adaptation acts in anticipation to future impacts and mitigation proceeds rather in reaction. De facto, the adaptation and mitigation approaches are together an inherent component of a decarbonized economy  but what makes this balance a fair balance? The purpose of this brief will intend to give an added insight.

Is it relevant to solve environmental problems with the same means that we used to create them?

Whilst there are two Climate Change strategies, efforts have been made to reduce emissions because the problem has been socially constructed as a pollution problem. The impact of this strategy is still significant as the concept of mitigation has framed our current Climate Change policy. Any discussions in respect to Climate Change began in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) well known the Earth Summit where a key environmental treaty was agreed. The treaty is called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and it is considered as a watershed in the fight against Climate Change and a major driver of the Climate Change policy across the world. In this post UNFCCC period any talk about adaptation was perceived as a stance against mitigation activities and, in a broader sense, anti-environmentalist. For example, the Former US Vice President Al Gore speaking in 1992, argued that adaptation represented “a kind of laziness, an arrogant faith in our ability to react in time to save our skins.” This common belief has been mirrored by the UNFCC as it mostly set down a framework for GreenHouse Gases (GHG). The detail of the legally binding reduction target appeared with the Kyoto protocol in 1997. Again, the protocol negotiations resulted in a number of novel mitigation mechanisms such as the international Emission Trading (IET).

Whilst the mitigation strategy has been the subject of fierce debates it must be remembered that our policy only reflects the belief system of our society. Our western society is framed by the philosophy of Descartes, where the world can be described and controlled in a mechanical manner. Nowadays, the utilitarian proponents argue that our technologies and innovation would be effective enough to address Climate Change risks. In this regard, the economist Robert Solow, who won the Nobel Prize in 1987, provides a fundamental economic theory. His article in “Intergenerational Equity and Exhaustible Resources” in 1974, demonstrates that the value of the elasticity of substitution of capital for resources is a crucial element and will permit continual growth. In other words, the future substitution of technology, for instance, hydrogen instead of oil, will ensure economic growth in the long run. However due to today’s demands for energy can this statement be valid? Will the future technologies arrive in time? In contrast, the research of Georgescu and Roegen marked a turning point when they demonstrated that this economic logic is invalid. To do so, they showed evidence where creation of innovations and technologies would not be fast enough and therefore insufficient to permit continual growth per capita. This means that the substitution of technology would not be in time to face global challenges including economic, social and environmental issues. That is currently the case in regards to new green innovations and low carbon technologies. The most alarming is that the effectiveness of a mitigation strategy in tackling Climate Change is mainly based on the substitution of technology.

The faith in technical progress and reliance on mitigation strategy starts to collapse. After ten years of an unachieved Kyoto Protocol, a decreasing confidence in mitigation appeared but it is only recently that the adaptation approach has seen a renewal in policy and debate. Nowadays, adaptation has come to be internationally regarded as a crucial response to Climate Change (IPCC, 2001a), and become a key component of the Government’s strategic approach to tackling Climate Change as set out in the UK Climate Change Programme (UKCIP. 2005). Given the potential to spend billions on adaptation efforts research to define what is an adaptation policy is worth pursuing in detail. Besides, there are increasing calls for research to define an optimal adaptation policy (Aakre and Rübbelke, 2008; OECD, 2008; Shorten, 2008; Adger et al., 2007; European Commission, 2007; Bouwer and Aerts, 2006; Kane and Shogren, 2000; Smith et al., 1999). New perspectives on the role of adaptation New perspectives on the role of adaptation are beginning to emerge for two reasons. Decisively, the Stern Review provides an articulate economic argument in favour of adaptation. The review is the first economic report that brings about a common consent regarding the Economics of Climate Change. Along the same lines, emerged a series of the international programmes to support adaptation. The 2001 Marrakech Accord to the Kyoto Protocol, the National Adaptation Programme of Action, the Kyoto Protocol Adaptation Fund, the Least Developed Countries Fund, the Strategic Priority on Adaptation, and the Special Climate Change Fund. And finally in 2002, many developing nations signed the Delhi Declaration calling for greater attention to adaptation in Climate Change policy negotiations. However, the adaptation instruments are biased due to a constant focus on mitigation. In fact, the role of technological change for a sustainable development is inherent in the environmental policy as well as in energy and climate policy. Policy-makers need to understand the limitations of mitigation for reducing vulnerability.

 So how extensive is the problem? The increase of extreme weather such as the 2007 summer flood and the 2006 drought in Europe, have shown how climate events can have dramatic consequences on our lives. Crucially in the UK, the central conclusion of the Stern Review is that the benefits of forceful and early action far outweigh the economic costs of not acting (DECC. 2009). The Review predicts that the “do nothing” scenario would cost 20% of GDP each year against 1% of GDP per year to take action

As mentioned previously the adaptation and mitigation approaches are two faces of the same coin, nonetheless the question is to know how effective  is the adaptation strategy in tackling Climate Change. The emergency of Climate Change makes it clear that the enhancement of our capacity to adapt is paramount. There were previously no legal requirements on the Government to report or monitor the risks of Climate Change. Nevertheless, recent shift in the UK Climate Change policy and international pressures have resulted in a renewed focus on adaptation strategy. The UK policy: blueprint? The UK is a relevant example to understand how the adaptation process should be conducted. On one hand, the UK is considered in Europe to be a leader in reducing Greenhouse Gases (GHG) (Professor Kevin Anderson, EEA. 2009). On the other hand, if the UK aims to maintain its leadership position, it must reinforce its Climate Change policy. In this regard the adaptation strategy offers the opportunity for the UK to be the first country to provide a blueprint. It is now a matter of months until what is considered as a renewal of the Kyoto protocol: the Copenhagen Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This conference could be the most critical environmental policy gathering in decades (Copenhagen Climate Council. 2009). As a result, the UK passed the Climate Change Act in 2008. It is considered to be the world’s first long term legally binding framework to tackle the dangers of Climate Change (DEFRA. 2008). Nevertheless, whilst the Act requires parties affected to report on adaptation, there are currently no standards concerning the method of reporting (DECC. 2009. p. 55). This lack of guidance can either lead to more flexibility or confusion. The controversy is over which adaptation approaches will best meet the Climate Change Act. On one hand, as a matter of coherence, a common methodology will be needed for adaptation. On the other hand, adaptation strategies will inevitably be diverse because regional or local vulnerabilities present disparate risks resulting from Climate Change. From a wider perspective, Climate Change Act (CCA) 2008 is considered to be the world’s first long term legally binding framework to tackle the dangers of Climate Change DEFRA. 2008). The Act gives responsibility for adaptation to DEFRA regulations and to the requirements of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (“DECC”) for mitigation. The Act could become a reference for other policies/legislations that need progress in this matter. For instance, the last policy in force in France is the “Plan Climat 2004” where questions about adaptation are absent. To sum up, the UK is a pioneer because the CCA gives powers to the Government to carry out risk assessments and make plans to address those risks. Previously, criticisms made towards Climate Change policies were related to the set of ambitious targets and the lack of actions (Turney. 2008). To avoid this happening again, the UK government have passed key provisions. This paper briefly analyses the current tools and institutional approaches used in the UK jurisdictions. Since its beginning, the UKCIP has played a key role in assisting in the development and implementation of adaptation in public and private sectors (Lorenzoni et al., 2007). The UKCIP provides a seven-step process to assist policy makers in the prioritisation of risks and actions. Recognising that the world is not a zero risk environment is surely the main contribution of this process. Its reliance on risk principles helps stakeholders to identify thresholds for unacceptable losses or new opportunities. However, whilst the thresholds are useful reference points for adaptation planners, the process does not allow for a comparison of risks. In addition, the study identifies limited funds and expertise as the main obstacles faced by policy makers. The full success of policies will be influenced by a number of factors, including atmospheric feedback mechanisms, enhancement of the communities’ capacity and technological developments. Still those factors depend upon financial and technical local capacities, which are not similar across the UK. In a sense the adaptation appears relatively unfair. Finally, despite being relatively advanced in the development of its institutional capacity, legislation, and tools for adaptation planning, the UK has not yet adopted a formal risk prioritization process at the national level.

To conclude, the door to take societies to a low carbon future has opened but the emergency of Climate Change requires a faster response. The 21st century will be marked by a third generation of human rights including the right to a healthy environment, international equity, and sustainability (Vasek. 1979). In this sense, this brief confirms that we cannot solve the problem with the same means that we used to create them. Whilst mitigation is necessary it is definitely not fair and effective enough to tackle Climate Change. As a matter of fact, the magnitude and pace of Climate Change requires complex instruments. However those instruments inherently reflect the deep beliefs of our system and so to face Climate Change we need a mixed approach synchronizing mitigation and adaptation.

Mandigout Estelle.

Virtual Environmental Law Guest Speakers Program

For those of you interested in climate geoengineering issues, or who may have students who are, I prepared an audio lecture (including a video Power Point) for Mercer Law Schools Environmental Law Guest Speakers series. We will be conducting a virtual discussion of the issue all week, and I hope some of you will join the forum! Also, feel free to download the lecture and use it in any way you see fit!

Potential impacts of CC on Species in Southeast Asia

A new study in the journal Biodiversity Conservation, Bickford, et al., Impacts of Climate Change on Amphibians and Reptiles of Southeast Asia, 19 Biodiversity Conservation 1043-1062 (2010) (subscription required),

Among the take-aways from the article:

  1. Temperatures in the region could rise 6C; this would make migrations for species involving latitude or elevation extremely difficult;
  2. Most islands in Southeast Asia lack the area for latitudinal or altitudinal shift, likely resulting in amphibian and reptile extinctions;
  3. Thermal optima for most amphibian and reptile species in the region will likely be exceeded this century, with potentially serious ramifications, including declines in mating success; declines in swimming and evasion performance; distributional shifts that will increase inter-species competition; and changes in sex ratio. The prospects in terms of this latter impact is most startling, with the study concluding that “all reptiles and some amphibians are potentially vulnerable to becoming single sex populations within the next 100 years;”
  4. Reductions in precipitation in the region will also have serious implications for many species, including reductions in breeding cues and available breeding sites; declines in reproductive success; and reductions in food sources. The latter impact may be exacerbated because projected temperature increases will increase metabolic rates of ectotherms by 10-75%, increasing caloric uptake;
  5. Specific research needs in the future include:
  • Large-scale monitoring programs at high impact sites;
  • Establishment of applied programs to establish biodiversity corridors between protected areas;
  • Development of additional capacity for regional zoos and parks to house and care for threatened species until their habitat can be restored
  • Efforts should be made to ameliorate other impacts on amphibian and reptile species, e.g. developing reusable, less toxic products, changes in land use, and education programs.

I’m often asked by my students when we cover potential adaptation responses to climate change whether there are any realistic options in the context of threatened species or ecosystems. This article is an excellent case study of some of those potential responses, as well as outlining many of the potential impacts on species that will occur throughout the world. It’s well written and not freighted with arcane biological terms, so it would suit either an undergraduate or graduate level course.