The eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP11) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is now underway in Hyderabad, India, and the Canada-based ETC Group has released its anti-geoengineering program for the meeting. This document, titled "The ABCs of Ensuring Precaution on Geoengineering," details five steps the group believes should be taken by the conference. Each item warrants comment.
"A: AFFIRM the moratorium." The ETC Group has long portrayed the 2010 CBD geoengineering moratorium more as an ironclad ban than as the voluntary, temporary, and conditional suspension of activities that it actually constitutes under international law. Developments since 2010 have underscored the relativity of the moratorium. For example, last month the UK government acknowledged the legal force of the moratorium in the context of declaring official support for geoengineering research (see UK Government Officially Supports Research, 9/28). Critics such as ETC Group are anxious to stop this slide away from their absolutist vision.
"B: BAN open-air tests." Calling for an open-air test ban only underlines the real-world limitations of the CBD moratorium, however, it also gives ETC Group an opportunity to repeat discredited stories about imminent field trials such as a recent false report on supposed SRM testing in New Mexico (see More Questionable Reporting from the Guardian, 7/19). The ETC Group presents a test of its own for evaluating possible field trials: a field test should be prohibited if it 1) could impact biodiversity, 2) would occur in the global commons, or 3) is intended to develop SRM technology. Virtually any realistic field test could be construed as violating at least one of these three criteria, which is precisely the point of the framework.
"C: CREATE monitoring capacity." On this point, the ETC Group and proponents of geoengineering research should be able to agree. Robust monitoring of geoengineering research is important for increasing transparency and building trust, and, if performed in a nonintrusive manner, would ultimately serve to enhance the geoengineering knowledge base. Of course, it is important that any monitoring mechanism be as neutral and objective as possible--ETC Group offers to assist in this regard, which is a non-starter.
"D: DEFEND the role of the CBD in decisionmaking on geoengineering and biodiversity." This picks up a thread started by the ETC Group at a CBD meeting held in Montreal earlier this year. For a variety of reasons, the CBD offers ETC Group a particularly favorable arena within which to pursue its anti-geoengineering agenda (for more, see Inconclusive Results from Montreal CBD Meeting, 5/7). As other international bodies such as the IPCC begin to take up climate engineering, the ETC Group is jealous to preserve its role as a big fish in the small CBD pond.
"E: ENSURE proper participation of indigenous and local communities in decisionmaking on geoengineering." This is another point on which ETC Group and its opponents should be able to agree. Indigenous and local communities have historically been denied voices in international decision-making on virtually every issue of global significance, and they will suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change. It is important not to presume how these groups will feel about potential geoengineering solutions. It is also important not to assume that ETC Group speaks on their behalf, since this is far from self-evident.
Right now, there is little to suggest that anything substantial related to geoengineering will emerge from the Hyderabad conference. The relevant recommendation from the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical, and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) calls for no significant changes, and the moratorium is likely to persist as is. Updates will follow as necessary.