IEG and Geoengineering

To kick off our discussion on IEG Beyond National Jurisdiction, I am sharing here some relevant excerpts from my organization's (ETC Group) Rio+20 briefing paper (March 2011):
Industry, at Rio+20, will not only be attempting to impose nanotechnology, synthetic biology and meta-genomics as central to the new “Green Economy,” it will also be proposing these technologies as integral to geoengineering strategies to dilute or delay climate change. Geoengineering is the intentional, large-scale intervention in planetary systems with the intention of affecting the climate. Since 2008, the UN Biodiversity Convention has unanimously adopted two moratoria blocking geoengineering: the first, in 2008, against “ocean fertilization” that intends (though has not been shown) to sequester carbon dioxide, and; in 2010, geoengineering, more generally – including various forms of so-called Solar Radiation Management, such as cloud whitening through ocean salt sprays and the construction of artificial volcanoes to blast sulfates into the stratosphere, both to block sunlight. Despite these moratoria, several OECD governments are continuing to explore geoengineering options. Attractively, geoengineering allows governments that wish to do little or nothing about climate change to pretend that a technological “fix” means that they can act unilaterally (without multilateral agreement) to dampen global warming while maintaining their exorbitant lifestyles. Geoengineering, for these governments, could be politically popular at home and save them money abroad. Geoengineering is now being proposed as a quick fix for our other ecological crises, such as ocean acidification, nitrogen and water cycle imbalances. This cannot be part of a truly socially-just and ecologically-sustainable development and/or economy. Geoengineering could be banned outright by the United Nations at Rio+20...
 Rio+20 must review Agenda 21 chapters 34 and 35 that call upon governments to pursue national and global technology assessment initiatives. In the years since Rio, the capacity of governments and the international community to undertake technology assessment and evaluation has declined. Immediately following Rio, the UN Center on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD), first established in 1979, was drastically cut back from its significant New York offices to a tiny secretariat housed within UNCTAD in Geneva. Simultaneously, the UN Centre on Transnational Corporations (UNCTC), which monitored the major industries developing new technologies, was eliminated altogether. Some national technology assessment facilities were also reduced. In the mid-1990s, the US Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), for example, was shut down.
The collapse in the ability of governments to assess new technologies took place exactly as the world experienced the most rapid – and broadest – expansion of new technologies in history...
Nevertheless, the UN multilateral system has no credible capacity to evaluate technologies or to advise governments. Different countries experience extraordinarily different health, environmental and socioeconomic conditions within which technologies operate. Given that, there is urgent need for both a national and global monitoring and information-sharing capacity that includes the full participation of civil society – especially those indigenous and local communities that may be directly or indirectly affected by the deployment of technologies. 
Opposition to technology evaluation can be expected from some industries. However, there is reluctant recognition from many parties that “business as usual” is not a good idea. Some companies and governments would welcome a less disruptive process for introducing new technologies. Since 2000, the UN has had no structural alternative but to adopt three moratoria related to new technologies: GURTs (or Terminator seeds) in 2000; ocean fertilization in 2008; and, in 2010, a general moratorium on most forms of geoengineering. Some governments and companies are fearful that additional moratoria will be adopted for synthetic biology and nanotechnology. 

There are several ways in which Rio +20 could move toward a technology evaluation and information mechanism:
1. Technology Assessment Service – An upgraded UNEP or a new environmental network could establish a dedicated secretariat to service the needs of governments; 
2. UNCSTD – once more with feeling: Alternatively, Rio+20 could opt to re-invigorate UNCSTD with more staff, resources and an enlarged mandate to monitor technologies and share information under the guidance of an intergovernmental committee. The multilateral system’s technology assessment capacity does not need to reside within an environmental network per se;
3. ICENT (See Annex 2) – Rio +20 could agree to begin negotiations on the creation of an International Convention for the Evaluation of New Technologies. Such a Convention would have the advantage of being able to address both the socio-economic and environmental aspects of technologies.

 
 
 
 

Arthur Dahl's picture

ETC report

For members who want to see the ETC report on "Geopiracy: The Case Against Geoengineering", it can be downloaded at http://www.etcgroup.org/en/node/5217.