Wednesday, January 26, 2011

IOC Releases Ocean Fertilization Policy Guide

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) has released a report titled Ocean Fertilization: A Scientific Summary for Policy Makers. The guide is brief, impartial, and remains agnostic on the question of ocean fertilization. Two of its conclusions are noteworthy:
  • "Whilst models can be developed to improve predictions of both benefits and impacts, the totality of effects will be extremely difficult − and costly − to directly verify, with implications for the confidence and cost-effectiveness of commercial-scale applications." Tradeable carbon credits require credible measurement and verification in order to maintain the integrity of any trading system. Technical and cost factors make measurement and verification difficult to carry out for ocean fertilization activities, and thus call into question the very proposition of commercial ocean fertilization.
  • "Estimates of the overall efficiency of atmospheric CO2 uptake in response to iron-based ocean fertilization have decreased greatly (by 5 – 20 times) over the past 20 years. Although uncertainties still remain, the amount of carbon that might be taken out of circulation through this technique on a long-term basis (decades to centuries) would seem small in comparison to fossil-fuel emissions." The promise of ocean iron fertilization as a CDR strategy is less than first thought, and continuing assessments show progressive declines in estimates of carbon removal potential. Ocean fertilization may play an important role as part of a geoengineering policy portfolio, but it is increasingly unlikely to serve as the principal tool of climate intervention.

These conclusions reinforce a growing perception that ocean fertilization is both more complicated and less effective than originally imagined, and that commercial, scientific, and policy interest may have already peaked.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Geoengineering to Enhance Security

Critics often point to geoengineering as a threat to security, usually focusing on the supposed risks of unilateral deployment. I have argued elsewhere that the threat of unilateral deployment is a myth, and that climate engineering is subject to a “logic of multilateralism.” There is a corollary to this argument, which is that climate engineering should be viewed as a means to enhance global security. As with other aspects of the geoengineering debate, the appropriate comparison is not between the present world and a future geoengineered world, but rather between a geoengineered world and a world experiencing unchecked climate change. Viewed from this perspective, geoengineering offers a sound strategy for reducing future climate insecurity.

There is no shortage of potential flashpoints associated with higher temperatures, altered precipitation patterns, rising sea levels, and other elements of global climate change. Countries are already scrambling for resources and trade routes made accessible by a thawing Arctic, and an ice-free, open Northwest Passage is likely to become a hotly contested strategic asset. Melting glaciers in the Himalayas threaten to trigger “water wars” among Asian neighbors, including India and China. Rising sea levels in the South China Sea could greatly aggravate regional disputes over the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

Internal state collapse is more likely to occur. Droughts, floods, desertification, extreme weather events—as these increase in frequency and intensity, they will exacerbate tensions within failed and failing states. The conflict in Darfur has been referred to as the first “climate war.” Countries such as Bangladesh, Haiti, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are among the most vulnerable to climate change, and could produce even more local and regional instability under business-as-usual emissions scenarios. Government breakdown and fractured societies create opportunities for crime, terrorism, and proxy wars.

Even with immediate adoption of sharp cuts in carbon emissions (an unlikely prospect), the amount of legacy loading in the atmosphere increases the chances of instability and violence due to climate change. In this context, climate intervention, especially relatively fast-acting SRM techniques, constitutes a powerful tool for promoting international peace and stability. Rather than undercutting global security, geoengineering facilitates improved security, reduced conflict, and less war.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

CIA Believes 450ppm Target Unrealistic

At an off-the-record briefing last week in Washington, DC, CIA analysts asserted that the conventional mitigation target of 450 ppm CO2e is unrealistic and unlikely to be met. Rather, 550 or even 650 ppm are more achievable goals, according to intelligence officials. Considering that many scientists and other observers regard 450 ppm as too high, with too many unacceptable risks, this sort of assessment gets to the heart of why emissions cuts alone will be insufficient to avert dangerous climate change.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

BP Expands in Russian Arctic

BP has formed a partnership with Russian oil giant Rosneft to explore areas of the Russian Arctic continental shelf. The deal is worth about $7.8 billion, and applies to three license blocks totaling approximately 50,000 square miles. BP and Rosneft will set up an Arctic technology center to promote recovery of hydrocarbons from the Russian Arctic.

Rosneft is owned by the Russian government, and its chairman also serves as deputy prime minister. Vladimir Putin pledged support for the partnership. The combination of increasing oil scarcity at the global level, and enhanced access to fossil fuel resources in the Russian Arctic (caused by climate change), creates an obstacle to potential Russian support for geoengineering. For many in the Russian government, global warming presents great opportunities in the Arctic, opportunities that could be jeopardized by climate engineering projects.

Monday, January 3, 2011

IPCC Expert Meeting on Geoengineering Set for June

The IPCC will hold an Expert Meeting in Peru in June to discuss the planned inclusion of geoengineering in the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). The proposed agenda is expansive and goes well beyond the core scientific and technical issues. Of particular note, the meeting will consider the "suitability of existing governance mechanisms for managing geoengineering, including social, legal and political factors." This will be a coordinating meeting, so much will depend on which experts are invited, how the meeting is organized, and how Working Group assessments are structured going forward. Discussions on these items are ongoing.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

AMS Statements on Climate Modification

The American Meteorological Society (AMS) recently released a statement on cloud seeding, concluding that "Continued effort is needed toward improved understanding of the risks and benefits of planned modification through well-designed and well-supported research programs." This position is consistent with the 2009 policy statement on geoengineering adopted by AMS, which declared "it is prudent to consider geoengineering's potential benefits, to understand its limitations, and to avoid ill-considered deployment." To this end, AMS called for expanded research on climate engineering and assessment of policy options.

AMS certifies meteorologists in the US, providing a closer link between scientists and the general public than what exists between climatologists and society at large. People are familiar with meteorologists, and AMS support for research on geoengineering and other forms of climate modification may enhance public openness to geoengineering, at least at the margins.