Under pressure from high-emitting, oil-producing countries, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) failed to advance a proposal to examine the risks of geoengineering technologies and to consider the need for a stricter governance framework. While many countries at the fourth UNEA meeting held in Nairobi, Kenya, from 11 to 15 March 2019, defended a precautionary approach that would have built upon the agreed moratoria on geoengineering that already exist within the United Nations, a handful of high-emission, oil-producing countries actively blocked any progress. Last January, Switzerland, along with 11 other countries, had presented a proposal for UNEA to assess the status of geoengineering technologies and to consider potential United Nations governance frameworks, particularly for Carbon Dioxide Removal and Solar Radiation Management.
Geoengineering is a set of large-scale technological proposals to manipulate the climate in an attempt to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and/or reduce global temperatures. These technologies do nothing to address the root causes of climate change and entrench continued dependence on the fossil fuel economy. Because of its inherent high risks and potential impacts on biodiversity, people, and the environment, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) established a moratoria against its deployment (2010) and the London Convention on Marine Dumping adopted a ban on ocean fertilization (2013).
"As a CSO that's been working on geoengineering governance for over a decade, we are frustrated that this resolution was blocked," said Silvia Ribeiro from ETC group. “The good news is that the CBD moratoria and the London Convention ban continue and are examples for other bodies. UNEA should have built on the precautionary decisions that are in place and taken steps towards establishing further multilateral governance measures. This is particularly needed, when some powerful countries are considering developing geoengineering techniques as an excuse to not make real greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and there are several announced open-air experiments in the US and Chile that would violate the CBD moratoria.”
“The need for further steps towards comprehensive and binding UN governance for these high-risk technologies is more urgent than ever. The transboundary risks and adverse impacts of geoengineering go far beyond the climate change discussion. Deployment of geoengineering, including Solar Radiation Management and Carbon Dioxide Removal, would jeopardize not only ecosystems and livelihoods but also human rights, sustainable development goals, and peace,” says Barbara Unmüßig, President of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. “We call on those countries that have fought for precautionary and effective governance here at UNEA-4 to take the necessary steps towards an international ban on geoengineering.”
“The active opposition to any form of geoengineering oversight from the United States and Saudi Arabia should be a wakeup call to those who assume big emitters and oil producers will readily embrace responsible governance of these technologies if it interferes with business as usual,” said Carroll Muffett, President of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). “Despite its leading role in the deployment of carbon dioxide removal for oil and fuel production, and in promoting geoengineering research and experimentation, the United States proved unwilling to consider even limited international oversight for either. Resistance to that oversight by countries at the center of geoengineering research and development demonstrates the grave risk that these technologies will move forward without the shared global governance that geoengineering researchers acknowledge is absolutely necessary. Such a governance structure is not a minor obstacle that can be assumed away, but rather an intractable political problem of precisely the kind that has delayed climate action for decades.”
Background information with links on geoengineering can be accessed here.