January 08, 2009

LOHAFEX Update: Geo-engineering ship plows on as Environment Ministry calls for a halt

Amid a growing storm of protest stretching across four continents, the Federal Environment Minister of Germany, Sigmar Gabriel, has reportedly called for the German research vessel, RV Polarstern, to halt its controversial ocean fertilization experiment.

ETC Group and our allies in Germany, India and South Africa reported on an Indo-German research expedition, codenamed LOHAFEX, which was about to breach the global moratorium on ocean fertilisation established through the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).(2) The LOHAFEX researchers plan to spread 6 tonnes of iron sulphate (in earlier statements, they said they had 20 tonnes of iron sulphate)(3) over a 300 square kilometre patch of ocean, in order to spur phytoplankton growth. This "ocean fertilization" experiment is just one example of proposed technologies to intentionally alter the climate, known collectively as geo-engineering. By targeting the high seas, the LOHAFEX researchers are clearly breaching the terms of the CBD moratorium.(4)

According to reports in today's German-language press, the German Federal Environment minister Sigmar Gabriel is now joining the chorus of those calling for the LOHAFEX experiment to be stopped. The Märkische Allgemeine newspaper has reported excerpts from a letter sent from Minister Gabriel to his colleague the Federal Research Minister Annette Schavan. In the letter, Gabriel asks Schavan to make sure that the project is "stopped immediately."(5) The operation "undermines Germany's credibility and pioneering role in the protection of biological diversity."(6) Sigmar Gabriel himself personally brokered the moratorium agreement on ocean fertilization at the CBD in Bonn last year. Gabriel holds the position of President of the Bureau overseeing the Convention.

While the message is now loud and clear from the Environment Minister, the researchers do not appear to be changing course. Instead, they have been issuing what appears to be wrong or contradictory information to the press and public. When contacted by ETC Group last week, Dr. Victor Smetacek, co-Chief Scientist of the LOHAFEX expedition, wrote from on board Polarstern that his expedition had the "the explicit permission of the German and Indian governments, including the German Ministry of the Environment which hosted the CBD meeting last May."(7) The latest pronouncements from the Environment Minister appear to contradict this. When pressed by ETC group to reveal more details about the nature of that "explicit permission," Dr. Smetacek has not offered any reply.

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