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Tuesday, March 12, 2019 

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has drawn attention to a new report in which marine and social scientists are urging a precautionary approach towards marine geoengineering techniques which involve deliberate large-scale manipulation of the environment.

Adding iron or other nutrients into the oceans to enhance natural processes to draw carbon from the atmosphere and creating foams which float on the surface of the sea to reflect sunlight back into the atmosphere are among a wide range of geoengineering practices which have been put forward as potential tools for countering climate change.

But, in a new report, marine and social scientists are urging a precautionary approach towards these techniques which involve deliberate large-scale manipulation of the environment. The report, published by the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP), a body that advises the United Nations system on the scientific aspects of marine environmental protection, says that a coordinated framework for proposing and assessing marine geoengineering activities should be developed.

“It is essential that the process of evidence-based assessment takes place in parallel with ongoing efforts to devise research governance structures, since both are inextricably linked in the marine geoengineering debate and the development of policy,” the report says.

The High level review of a wide range of proposed marine geoengineering techniques is the first to comprehensively examine the many proposed ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or boost the reflection of incoming solar radiation to space (known as “albedo modification”) - or, in some cases, both.

Co-editor Dr Philip Boyd, Professor of Marine Biogeochemistry at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia, said the report marks an important step in identifying marine geoengineering approaches and highlighting issues that policy makers, regulators and governments will need to consider.

The report catalogues 27 approaches, mainly focussed on marine geoengineering but also on fisheries’ enhancement and integrated marine trophic aquaculture. It examines eight illustrative examples in detail.

One of these, ocean iron fertilization, has already been addressed by the London Convention and Protocol, the treaties which regulate the dumping of wastes at sea- under which it is prohibited, except for legitimate scientific research. P

The GESAMP report recommends future work, including developing a streamlined, robust framework for scientific assessment that engages proposers of individual techniques and provides the opportunity for effective, transparent scientific review. It also advocates that there should be a clear focus on the potential environmental and socio-economic, geopolitical and other relevant societal aspects of marine geoengineering assessments.

Fredrik Haag, Head of the Office for the London Convention/Protocol and Ocean Affairs at IMO, and the IMO Technical Secretary of GESAMP, said the report is an important first step in identifying and reviewing marine geoengineering techniques. “This is particularly important in the context of the United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development; not just in relation to Sustainable Development Goal 13, which urges action to combat climate change, but also SDG 14, which seeks to ensure sustainable use of the oceans,” Haag said.

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