Geo-Engineering Unlikely to Work, Conservation Group Says
By Alex Kirby
Nov 3 2016
LONDON—The global watchdog responsible for protecting the world’s wealth of species, the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), has looked at the hopes for reining in climate change through geo-engineering. Its bleak conclusion, echoing that reached by many independent scientists, is that the chances are “highly uncertain”.
“Novel means”, in this context, describes trying to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by removing them from the atmosphere, and altering the amount of heat from the Sun that reaches the Earth.
Some scientists and policymakers say geo-engineering, as these strategies are collectively known, is essential if the world is to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. This is because current attempts to reduce emissions cannot make big enough cuts fast enough to keep global average temperatures from rising more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels, the Agreement’s basic goal.
But the CBD says in a report that geo-engineering, while it could possibly help to prevent the world overheating, might endanger global biodiversity and have other unpredictable effects.
Many independent analysts have raised similar concerns.Attempts to increase the amount of carbon in the oceans, in order to remove GHGs, have so far shown disappointing results. One report doubted that geo-engineering could slow sea-level rise. Another said it could not arrest the melting of Arctic ice. A third study found that geo-engineering would make things little better and might even make global warming worse.
The lead author of the CBD geo-engineering report is a British scientist, Dr Phillip Williamson, of the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council. He is an associate fellow in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, UK.
The CBD originally became involved in climate geo-engineering in 2008, because member governments were concerned that experiments to fertilise the oceans could pose unknown risks to the environment (they were then unregulated when carried out in international waters).
The CBD’s concern expanded to include other geo-engineering techniques, especially atmospheric methods which could have uncertain transboundary impacts. Some scientists argue that “geo-engineering” is a hazily-defined term and prefer to speak instead simply of “greenhouse gas removal”.
Dr Williamson and his colleagues say assessment of the impacts of geo-engineering on biodiversity “is not straightforward and is subject to many uncertainties”.
On greenhouse gas removal they warn that removing a given quantity of a greenhouse gas would not fully compensate for an earlier ‘overshoot’ of emissions.