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Saturday, April 1, 2023

Geoengineering threatens oceans, say campaigners

Members of a global coalition formed by 195 organisations on 45 countries are raising the alarm about the threat of geoengineering to delicate, life-sustaining ocean ecosystems worldwide.

Peter Thomson
Ambassador Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean

The Hands Off Mother Earth (HOME) Campaign is calling on civil society and government officials worldwide to vigorously oppose marine geoengineering experiments.

A recent announcement of the first open-air test of solar geoengineering technology in Australia is said to be one of several types of geoengineering that could cause permanent damage to ecosystems if implemented at scale. However, Australia is not the only such dangerous, precedent-setting experiment.

“Geoengineers are flying in the face of global moratoria agreed at the UN,” said Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group. “The potential for large-scale versions of these projects – driven by the fossil fuel industry’s motivation to keep extracting, selling and burning – poses a clear and present danger to our oceans.”

Geoengineering is a set of proposed technologies based on the idea that, instead of reducing emissions to prevent catastrophic global temperature increases, we can instead impose a series of large-scale interventions to manipulate planetary systems. These include a variety of unproven schemes for blocking sunlight or reflecting it back into space or removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“Geoengineering does not address the causes of climate change,” said ETC’s Ribeiro. “Undertaking megaprojects that would change the dynamics and the chemistry of oceans is a high-risk enterprise that entails serious uncertainties about impacts on marine ecosystems.”

However, these high-risk technofix approaches are reportedly going ahead despite global opposition and international calls to take extremely precautionary approaches to marine geoengineering.

The UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) passed a moratorium on ocean fertilisation in 2008, and a moratorium on all forms of geoengineering (including open-air research) in 2010. The London Protocol of the London Convention adopted a ban on ocean fertilisation in 2013.

According to HOME, the open-air testing of solar geoengineering technology in Australia sets a dangerous new precedent, “opening a path to the use of a  risky technology that, if deployed at large scale, could be damaging to other regions and even the ocean ecosystems the researchers claim to be trying to protect”.

“The Australian Government has consistently pandered to fossil fuel company interests by promoting false solutions to climate change that promote business as usual,” said Louise Sales from Friends of the Earth Australia’s Emerging Tech Project. “This potentially harmful Solar Radiation Management experiment on the Great Barrier Reef is no exception. To really address climate change, we need serious cuts to CO2 emissions, not distracting technofixes.”

This project in Australia claims to be for the protection of the Great Barrier Reef, but geoengineering, say some experts, will not address the main causes of the reef’s destruction (ocean acidification and coastal pollution). The project is connected to a geoengineering team that has been working to deploy the same cloud-brightening technique outside Monterey Bay In California.

Attempts to test ocean fertilisation techniques off the coasts of Chile and Peru also contravene the London Convention and CBD moratoria. Therefore Oceaneos, an organisation connected to  previous illegal experiments in Canada presents their activities as “ocean seeding,” arguing that it is a method to increase fish stocks.

“We reject the attempt to use ecosystem degradation or alleged improvements to fisheries as an excuse to justify the advancement of marine geoengineering. These experiments would violate international moratoria, and scientific evidence indicates that the risks and impacts far outweigh the supposed benefits.” said Samuel Leiva from Terram, in Chile.

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