May 29, 2008

Global Moratorium on Ocean Fertilization?

Delays, drama and diversions dog U.N attempts to reign-in commercial geo-engineers

Stalled at the eleventh hour by three isolated countries that are attempting to block consensus, most of the world’s environment ministries and others are on the brink of reaching agreement on a worldwide moratorium on commercial ocean fertilization – controversial proposals to dump nutrients in the ocean to artificially alter the climate. The three blocking countries, Australia, China and Brazil have spent several days manipulating the process to avoid discussion and prevent progress, much to the exasperation of delegates and observers. The clock runs out on negotiations at 6pm today (30. May 2008).

Following late-night sessions and with tempers frayed after two weeks of intense negotiations at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Bonn, Germany, all indications are that most of the 191 countries who are members of the convention want to adopt a moratorium on large-scale ocean fertilization with a tightly controlled exemption for small-scale, legitimate scientific research. This news comes as a handful of ocean fertilization companies are preparing to carry out commercial activities backed by millions of private dollars. The companies claim that ocean fertilization is a valid technique for sequestering carbon, and hope to profit from the sale of carbon credits.
“There is a pretty militant feeling amongst delegates here that ocean fertilization companies are profiteering off of climate change concerns while unleashing a vast and dangerous experiment on us all,” explains Pat Mooney of ETC Group speaking from Bonn. “However Australia, Brazil and China are refusing to allow discussion of the issues while actively blocking consensus. Thanks to their procedural tactics the text under discussion keeps being diverted out of the negotiating room. We have taken to calling it the ‘wonderful mystery disappearing text.’ We would rather these three countries disappeared themselves and let the rest of the world make a decision.”
Led by African countries with the support of the EU, Norway, Canada and Southeast Asian and Latin American countries, the biodiversity meeting has proposed text that requests countries “to ensure that ocean fertilization activities do not take place until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities, including assessing associated risks.” Many parties would also like to explicitly prohibit research by private companies that would lead to commercial sale of carbon credits. Australia, which appears to be protecting the interests of an ocean fertilization company based in Sydney, had been unilaterally blocking progress but has seemingly recruited the Brazilian and Chinese delegations. All three countries have significant fossil fuel industries that may favour ‘quick fixes’ to reducing emissions.

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