January 27, 2009

LOHAFEX Update: Throwing precaution (and iron) to the wind (and waves)

ETC Group joined the chorus of voices, including the German Environment Ministry, expressing its deep regret at the decision of the German Minister of Research to re-authorize the controversial LOHAFEX ocean fertilization expedition. Researchers on board the German vessel RV Polarstern have now begun dumping 6 tons of iron sulphate over 300 square kilometers of open ocean in the Scotia Sea (east of Argentina) to artificially prompt the growth of a large plankton bloom. It will be one of the largest ocean fertilization experiments to date.

The LOHAFEX expedition had been temporarily suspended by German Research Minister, Annette Schavan, at the request of the German Environment Minister, following opposition by civil society groups and experts who said the expedition violated the moratorium on ocean fertilization agreed to last year at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).[1] Over the past weeks, Schavan's staff commissioned documents to justify the expedition. Those hastily assembled documents were released on January 26, along with Minister Schavan's announcement that she was re-authorizing the expedition. In response, the German Environment Ministry re-iterated its opposition to the LOHAFEX expedition, issuing a strong statement[2] criticizing the failure to guarantee independent monitoring and citing concerns expressed by the scientific community, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) around ocean fertilization, which led to the de facto moratorium agreed at last year’s CBD meeting.

“We are outraged that Minister Schavan has given a green light to start dumping iron despite concerns expressed by the Environment Minister and a broad coalition of civil society organizations as well as scientists,” said Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group, speaking from the World Social Forum in Belém, Brazil. “This decision shows an astonishing disregard for the decision of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – in which the German government played a key role – and will seriously undermine Germany's credibility at future negotiations. It also gives the wrong signal to the geo-engineers who would like to re-engineer our planet for profit.”

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