MPs urge government to prepare for geo-engineering option
With small scale geo-engineering projects already underway, MPs have warned governments must begin work on the necessary regulatory framework
A parliamentary select committee of MPs warned yesterday that the groundwork for regulating geo-engineering projects must start now. The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has claimed that hesitation may mean multi-lateral agreement on an international legislative framework is not reached before the impact of dangerous climate change is felt.
The Committee published the findings of an inquiry undertaken as part of a unique collaboration with its equivalent body in the US House of Representatives on the same day that chair Phil Willis gave evidence to the US committee via a video link.
Speaking ahead of the US hearing, Willis said: “What better subject than geo-engineering – where international collaboration is essential if we are to explore and understand fully its potential – to provide the backdrop to a first-of-its-kind collaboration between UK and US scrutiny committees.”
Geo-engineering refers to a controversial field of research that proposes using technology to reduce or reverse the effects of human-induced climate change.
The British MPs report called for work around geo-engineering to start now in order to provide enough time to fully explore the technological, environmental, political and regulatory issues.
Some scientists believe that proposed geo-engineering technologies – such as putting mirrors in space or seeding clouds to help reflect the sun’s energy, or artificially producing algal blooms in the ocean that can soak up carbon dioxide – would offer an important “plan B” should efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions fail.
However, others have argued that geo-engineering projects could have catastrophic unintended consequences on the climate and would also distract the urgent need to cut emissions.
The Select Committee report concluded that governments had to begin looking at how to regulate geo-engineering projects because small-scale testing is already underway. It also warned that in a worst case scenario, failure to set up an international regulatory framework could enable a single country to unilaterally affect the earth’s climate.
The report recommended that regulatory regimes be based on graded geo-engineering techniques, with controls based on a set of widely-agreed principles.
Willis said that geo-engineering could affect the entire planet and, as a result, it would be foolish to ignore its potential to minimise or even reverse human-induced climate change. He added that there was “no sound reason not to begin the groundwork for regulatory arrangements immediately”.
The news came on the same day that the Royal Society announced it is to form a Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative.
Solar-radiation management concepts involve limiting the amount of radiation that reach the Earth’s surface and include proposals such as pumping sulphur into the stratosphere to force the same kind of global cooling that occurs after massive volcanic eruptions.
The report also follows the release of research this week claiming that proposals to seed parts of the ocean with iron in order to encourage the growth of carbon dioxide absorbing algae could result in the creation of toxins that poison wildlife.
The study, which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said the findings raised “serious concern” about ocean-fertilisation projects, a number of which have already been undertaken.
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