call for banning geoengineering

More from the ETC Group, on geoengineering: 
The community of nations should be concerned to block geoengineering for six reasons: 
1. Geoengineering may not require the concurrence of the UN or other governments since many geoengineering technologies (such as Solar Radiation Management) can be deployed within national boundaries but have regional or global impact;
2. Governments deploying geoengineering technologies may have no interest in joining multilateral climate change agreements;
3. Those deploying geoengineering technologies may argue that the costs are their contribution to the well-being of the most seriously affected countries;
4. Geoengineering represents a high-risk gamble with the most likely negative impacts being felt in tropical and subtropical countries;
5. Governments who adopt climate techno-fixes will not devote political or financial capital to reduce their own GHG emissions;
6. The governments most interested in geoengineering have been those that have historically either denied or delayed climate change action and have failed to demonstrate either the integrity or the intelligence necessary to commandeer control over “the planetary thermostat” through their technologies.
COP 10 of the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted a moratorium on geoengineering at its meeting in Japan in October, 2010. However, since the moratorium falls short of an outright ban, governments could pass a specific resolution against geoengineering at Rio+20.
The Environmental Modification Treaty (ENMOD) text was jointly produced by the United States and the Soviet Union in the mid-1970s as a consequence of US efforts to manipulate weather conditions over the Ho Chi Minh trail and rice paddies during the Vietnam War. ENMOD prohibits member states from using the environment as a weapon. Despite this military limitation, the recent Bush administration acknowledged that ENMOD could also be invoked in the case of geoengineering in the context of climate change. 73 governments (including all permanent members of the Security Council as well as other governments with advanced technologies) have ratified ENMOD. Any member government can claim that another member state is manipulating its environment and the UN Secretary-General is obliged to convene a meeting of treaty parties to address the complaint. It is also possible for the UN to go to the International Court of Justice to seek guidance from the Court as to what might be considered a violation of the treaty. In other words, the Court could be asked if geoengineering for the purpose of climate change would amount to a violation of the treaty. In such instances, the Court normally offers its advice within 12 months.
At Rio+20, governments could, at least, invite the Secretary-General to seek the advice of the International Court of Justice as to whether or not geoengineering would be a violation of the Environmental Modification Treaty of 1978.

duycks's picture

Legality of Geo-engineering under the 1978 Convention

Hello Neth, Arthur,
I fully share the concerns related to Geo-engineering, but I am not sure of the ICJ opinion is the most helpful concrete proposal. I have not studied the question so please take the following comment as an open question:
Is there a reasonable chance that geoengineering would fall under the 1978 Convention on Environmental Modification?
My understanding however is that the convention would applied only to the weaponization of environmental modification (see next quote). 
1978 Convention, article 1: "Each State Party to this Convention undertakes not to engage in military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects as the means of destruction, damage or injury to any other State Party."
Article 3: "The provisions of this Convention shall not hinder the use of environmental modification techniques for peaceful purposes." 
The ICJ judges have been relatively conservative with the interpretation of international norms, particularly on environmental matters, and I am personally doubtful that they would show so much judicial activism as to actually take a stand against geo-engineering based on the 1978 convention.

Arthur Dahl's picture

Action on geoengineering

Your proposals on the legal instruments to ban or control geoengineering are a good start. If the Environmental Modification Treaty can be used, so much the better. It is at least an important precedent, and governments like precedents. What is most important to ban immediately is unilateral national action. There may still need to be a mechanism to agree to collective international action, much as the Security Council can authorize the use of force.
Another complementary action needed is for scientific and technical assessment of geoengineering proposals. This needs to be an independent international process, protected from national pressures and commercial interests, and drawing on the best expertise from all countries, perhaps on the model of the IPCC. It should have the precautionary principle as a fundamental part of its mandate. An additional dimension of economic and social assessment may also be required, as geoengineering will probably produce winners and losers (with the poor most likely being the losers).

Arthur Dahl's picture

IPCC action on geoengineering

The IPCC convened a closed meeting of experts on geoengineering in Lima the week of 27 June 2011 to assess proposals  for manipulating the Earth to avoid climate disaster, as an input to the fifth assessment report. The assessment is supposed to take into account all the possible impacts of geoengineering technologies. The aim is a comprehensive evaluation of the technologies without making any recommendations.