Geoengineering Moratorium Proposal

ETC Group
News Release
18 May 2010

United Nations science body calls for halt on climate-hacking experiments
Geoengineering moratorium proposal will go to UN Biodiversity Convention

Nairobi, Kenya – A formal recommendation for a moratorium on all climate
geoengineering activities is being sent to the United Nations Convention on
Biological Diversity (CBD) for consideration by its 193 member governments
when the CBD gathers in Nagoya Japan this October.

Governments attending the Nairobi meeting of the scientific subcommittee of
the UN Convention (SBSTTA 14) agreed late last week to forward the
groundbreaking recommendation after a high degree of consensus was reached.
In a related move, the scientific subcommittee also reviewed and supported
the ongoing global moratorium on one geoengineering technique, ocean
fertilization, adopted by the Biodiversity Convention in Bonn in 2008.

The historic recommendation from SBSTTA 14 is the first time a UN body has
addressed geoengineering governance since the adoption of the Environmental
Modification Treaty in the 1970s. SBSTTA requests 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”. (1) The moratorium proposal
received near-unanimous support with strong statements from countries in
Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. However, the recommendation will
be forwarded to COP 10 (Conference of the Parties) of the CBD in October in
“square brackets” signalling that the consensus is not absolute. Earlier in
the week it seemed there was unanimous agreement on the text after some
delegations consulted with their capitals. But on the final day Canada
apologetically announced that it could not support the text and asked that
it be placed in brackets for consideration in Nagoya. Decisions in the CBD
are customarily consensus-based.

“The motion on geoengineering arose as part of the agenda on climate change
and biodiversity,” Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group (an international civil
society organization) reports from Nairobi. “Canada is the bête noire of
climate change negotiations and nobody was surprised to see it stand out as
the main objector to this proposal. The delegation itself was embarrassed.”

“Geoengineering” refers to any large-scale human-made effort to
intentionally adjust major planetary systems to climate change. It includes
proposals to pump sulphates into the stratosphere to block sunlight or blow
ocean salt spray into clouds to increase their reflectivity. Last week it
emerged that at least one team of engineers and scientists, the Silver
Lining Project of San Francisco, is looking to run a 10,000 square
kilometre geoengineering test on cloud whitening.(2) ETC Group’s request
to Silver Lining for clarification on the experiment’s details has not yet
been answered.

Geoengineering also includes transforming major tracts of land or sea in
order to sequester excess greenhouse gases. Confronted with imminent
commercial ventures, the 2008 meeting of the Biodiversity Convention
adopted what the German environment minister (who chaired the CBD) called
a “de facto moratorium” on ocean fertilization. Shortly after its adoption,
however, another German ministry violated the moratorium with an ocean
fertilization experiment in the Southern Ocean. The move caused a rift
within the German cabinet, debate in the Bundestag, an international outcry
and led last week to a strong reaffirmation of the moratorium by government
delegates in Nairobi.

“The moratorium on ocean fertilization is stronger than ever,” says Neth
Dano of ETC Group, also in Nairobi. “But we expect its promoters to strike
back. Big industry and big science want to press ahead with geoengineering
either as a ‘plan B’, or as a free pass to avoid reducing emissions. It’s
the big lie that lets them pretend that we can all carry on drilling and
driving – business as usual!”

“The geoengineers are going to be furious with this moratorium,” Silvia
Ribeiro acknowledges. “The last thing they want is for the United Nations
to step in. They argue that a handful of governments and corporations
should be free to move ahead on geoengineering experimentation without
independent, international oversight. (3) In March, geoengineers held a by
invitation-only conference in Asilomar, California to discuss a ‘voluntary
code of conduct’ that would let them self-regulate their experiments. (4)
Governments here in Nairobi have just told them they have no right to
control the planet’s thermostat.”

Recognising that geoengineers will be mounting a major lobbying offensive
to prevent the moratorium from being firmly established in Nagoya later
this year, ETC Group has joined with over 100 other civil society
organisations to press the case for a halt to geoengineering experiments.
The Hands Off Mother Earth (HOME) campaign is a global grassroots campaign
of individuals and organisations visible at Its supporters include many grassroots
organisations, international networks of farmers and indigenous peoples as
well as renowned environmentalists and social justice campaigners such as
Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, David Suzuki and Naomi Klein. (5)

“How dare they claim the right to block the sun? To colour the clouds? To
change the chemistry of the ocean?” exclaims Canadian author Naomi Klein
who is backing the HOME campaign. “Look at the oil gushing into the Gulf of
Mexico. If we learn one lesson from this disaster, let it be that we cannot
control the effects of our technology, nor is our technology capable of
fixing the Earth-disruptions that we unleash. It’s time for some collective
humility in the face of awesome natural forces, not more eco-hubris.”



1. The full text of the proposed moratorium in SBSTTA (Subsidiary Body for
Scientific, Technological and Technical Advice)
UNEP/CBD/SBSTTA/14/L9 is online at . The relevant
section reads :
(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;]

2. See ETC Group/H.O.M.E. News Release, “As huge cloud-whitening experiment
goes public, global coalition urges an immediate halt to geoengineering”
20th May 2010. Online at

3. See for example Lee Lane of the American Enterprise Institute,
“Geoengineering Experiments should not require global agreement”, the
Enterprise Blog, March 30 2010, available at or the testimony of Canadian scientist
David Keith before the UK Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology
hearings on the regulation of geoengineering available at

4. See ETC Group news release, “Top-down Planet Hackers Call for Bottom-up
Governance” 11th Feb 2010. Online at
See also the letter from civil society groups opposing the Asilomar
conference at:

5. For more information about the Hands Off Mother Earth Campaign and to
view a gallery of hundreds of individuals expressing their opposition to
geoengineering experiments see Images
available for picture desks.

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