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CBD Study Examines Climate-related Geoengineering, Impacts on Biodiversity

September 2012: The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has published a study examining technical and regulatory matters on geoengineering in relation to the CBD. Circulated as CBD Technical Series No. 66, the study finds that there is no satisfactory climate geoengineering approach currently available, and that  international law provides an incomplete basis for the governance of geoengineering.

The first part of the study examines impacts of climate-related geoengineering on biological diversity. It provides an overview of climate change and ocean acidification and their impacts on biodiversity, and examines different climate geoengineering methods, including sunlight reflection and carbon dioxide (CO2) removal. It also addresses social, economic, cultural and ethical considerations of climate-related geoengineering.

The report concludes that there is no single geoengineering approach that currently meets all three basic criteria for effectiveness, safety and affordability. If feasible and effective, use of geoengineering techniques could reduce the magnitude of climate change and its impacts on biodiversity. However, most geoengineering techniques are likely to have unintended impacts on biodiversity, particularly when deployed at a climatically-significant scale, together with significant risks and uncertainties.

The second part examines the regulatory framework for climate-related geoengineering relevant to the CBD, including: generally applicable international law and principles; specific Treaty regimes and institutions; institutions; and rules governing research. The report suggests that some general principles of international law - such as the duty to avoid transboundary harm, and the need to conduct an environmental impact assessment, together with the rules of State responsibility - provide some guidance relevant to geoengineering. However, they are an incomplete basis for international governance. Some geoengineering techniques are regulated under existing treaty regimes, while others are prohibited. At the same time, some other techniques would be subject to general procedural obligations within existing treaty regimes, but to date no specific rules governing them have been developed. Furthermore, most regulatory mechanisms discussed in the report were developed before geoengineering was a significant issue and, as such, do not currently contain explicit references to geoengineering approaches. The lack of regulatory mechanisms for sunlight reflection methods is a major gap.

In principle, existing institutions, such as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), have a mandate that could address such issues. [Publication: Geoengineering in Relation to the Convention on Biological Diversity: Technical and Regulatory Matters]