Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Meaning of the Moratorium

CBD COP10 has adopted a moratorium on geoengineering, and many have portrayed this development as the imposition of a UN ban on all geoengineering activities. But this is not quite right. Following are core elements of the moratorium (from "Climate Change and Biodiversity (UNEP/CBD/COP/10/L.36)"):

8(w) Ensure, in line and consistent with decision IX/16 C, on ocean fertilization and biodiversity and climate change, in the absence of science based, global, transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanisms for geo-engineering, and in accordance with the precautionary approach and Article 14 of the Convention, that no climate-related geo-engineering activities[1] that may affect biodiversity 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, with the exception of small scale scientific research studies that would be conducted in a controlled setting in accordance with Article 3 of the Convention, and only if they are justified by the need to gather specific scientific data and are subject to a thorough prior assessment of the potential impacts on the environment;


9.9(p) Taking into account the possible need for science based global,

transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanisms, subject to the availability

of financial resources, undertake a study on gaps in such existing mechanisms for

climate-related geo-engineering relevant to the Convention on Biological Diversity,

bearing in mind that such mechanisms may not be best placed under the Convention on

Biological Diversity, for consideration by the Subsidiary Body on Scientific Technical

and Technological Advice prior to a future meeting of the Conference of the Parties and

to communicate the results to relevant organizations;

A moratorium is by definition temporary. The CBD Decision specifies that the moratorium is instituted "in the absence of science based, global, transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanisms." Given the "possible need for science based global, transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanisms," the provision then directs the convention Secretariat to "undertake a study on gaps in such existing mechanisms for climate-related geo-engineering relevant to the Convention on Biological Diversity, bearing in mind that such mechanisms may not be best placed under the Convention on Biological Diversity."


In other words, the CBD has asked governments to call a temporary halt to geoengineering activities while it explores alternative governance arrangements, arrangements the CBD acknowledges may fall outside its field of competence. This is not the same thing as a ban. Rather, this resolution has established a road map for developing international governance mechanisms to regulate (not outlaw) climate engineering techniques. Viewed in this light, the moratorium may turn out to be a hollow victory for opponents of geoengineering that, over the long run, does more to facilitate climate intervention than inhibit it.


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