CURRENT SOCIETAL CONCERNS
Elpidio V. Peria
23 August 2014
Having just attended the recently-concluded Climate Engineering Conference (from 18 to 21 August 2014) here in Berlin, Germany and still stuck at an airport hotel near Tegel Airport while waiting for a flight that’s cancelled because of bad weather and a flat tire yesterday, here’s an attempt to get a sense of what was seen and heard during those previous days, focusing on some reflections why the world should have less, NOT more, experimentation of our climate :
1) There has been no serious mitigation effort by developed countries, including now.
During the exchanges that have been aired in the various sessions in this conference, part of the reason why scientists who attended that meeting are enamored with geo-engineering or climate engineering is that there has been no serious greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation effort at all worldwide and while there is this acceptance of the UN treaty on climate that mandates countries to limit their greenhouse gas emissions, even Prof. Dan Bodansky of Arizona State University said that it’s also because the United Nations climate negotiations is complicated. This prompted this writer to react, saying to the contrary that the problem is simple – it’s the lack of follow-through by developed countries such as the US, the countries comprising the EU and some Annex 1 countries which are former republics of the defunct-USSR, to make good in their commitments during the Rio Summit in 1992 and the adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. In spite of this, it should be acknowledged that the US, most especially, has seen its GHG emissions decline, but this is not due to its efforts under the UN climate treaty and it is not done at levels necessary to stabilize the levels of GHG in the atmosphere.
This impasse in the UN climate negotiations should not be used as an excuse to do climate engineering. Perhaps these scientists should exert serious and honest-to-goodness efforts first, within their countries, now, to convince their governments to make real emissions cuts commitments and once these things are tried out in earnest and the GHG gases don’t stabilize, only then should climate engineering be contemplated.
2) The science is full of uncertainties, and while it may be necessary to do research to understand how the technology works with the natural environment, advocating simply that more research, including field research, is needed to further learn how the technology works is self-serving
It is seductive and somewhat convincing for the novice listener to agree that, sure, because we don’t know much about this technology and how it interacts with the geophysical movements of the earth’s climate, then we should go about and do the experiments just the same. But this is precisely what the scientists doing these types of research now want – the freedom to research what they need to find out. Looking back at these exchanges, shouldn’t there be some limits to the way this freedom to research argument is being bandied about? Like, suppose it will impinge on the rights of other people who are not so worried about these types of problems? Of course, these scientists may say, ignorant, unconcerned and uncaring people shouldn’t have a power over their research decisions, but there is a reason why even these types of people are important just the same and that is democracy – these types of people are also the ones who make decisions in an open and participatory governmental system, it is they who y make up the polity, the collective will that votes governments in or out of office. Thus, their views on these things, no matter how un-formed, or ill-formed, matters for giving these researches a go-ahead.
3) It’s a pity the miseries of developing countries are being used to justify these experiments, but what these countries need most now is more climate adaptation support, especially funding and technology
The research infrastructure and technical prowess to examine geoenginnering should be better focused on the more urgent need of developing countries for climate change adaptation, which for now is not adequately funded by the Adaptation Fund of the UN Framework Conventon on Climate Change. Even the UNFCCC’s Climate Technology Centre does not have significant amounts of money to accelerate and upscale its climate technology transfer efforts. These things should be taken into account first.
4) The ethical constructs for carbon dioxide removal as well as the international legal framework sketched for de minimis damage from climate engineering, are at its essence, self-delusional
There was a session on the application of clinical theory to justify the experiment on carbon dioxide removal; the way the presentor set out his point is littered with too many “ifs” that for a lay listener it ceased to be convincing. Way much earlier during day 2 of the conference there was a session on international law to regulate de minimis (Latin for minimal, or such kind of damage that is so small to be inconsequential) damage from climate engineering. The basic flaw in that presentation on international law it seems is the premise that there will only be inconsequential damage to the earth and its climate. At best, we don’t really know. In fact, the scientists don’t really know, they say, so they need to do more research. Thus, if this is the case, what should apply is the precautionary principle which, according to Prof. Karen Scott of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, is already customary international law, then, at best, these activities should be stopped at the moment, in deference to that principle.
5) There is an on-going moratorium on some types of research, especially under the Convention on Biological Diversity
There is actually an international treaty, the Convention on Biological Diversity, that applies precautionary principle now to these activities and the part of the Decision relevant to our discussion invites Parties to the Convention and Governments, including relevant organizations and processes to:
Ensure, in line and consistent with decision IX/16 C, on ocean fertilization and biodiversity and climate change, in the absence of science based, global, transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanisms for geo-engineering, and in accordance with the precautionary approach and Article 14 of the Convention, that no climate-related geo-engineering activities that may affect biodiversity take place, until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities and appropriate consideration of the associated risks for the environment and biodiversity and associated social, economic and cultural impacts, with the exception of small scale scientific research studies that would be conducted in a controlled setting in accordance with Article 3 of the Convention, and only if they are justified by the need to gather specific scientific data and are subject to a thorough prior assessment of the potential impacts on the environment;
Prof Tracy Hester of the University of Houston Law Center said that, in a Q&A session, to make these types of international law decisions binding, there should be a national law to put them into action, so to speak. Perhaps he was referring to those who wish to assert global liability to these types of experiments which are done in spite of these supposed prohibitions. In that session on local laws and global liability, the litigation possibilities of those who wish to exact global liability from these types of activities are explored, but, to summarize his presentation, litigation is essentially difficult, but this does not have to await any global governance schemes or international law specifically designed for these activities, as the usual general environmental laws of a country, including its tort laws, can already be used.