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  Interpretation of CBD COP10 decision on geoengineering

Masahiro Sugiyama and Taishi Sugiyama
SERC Discussion Paper 10013
Date : 2010
 The delegates at the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP10) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) discussed geoengineering, the "deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change," in addition to main topics such as biodiversity conservation targets and access and benefit-sharing of genetic resources.
 The draft decision contained a language to preclude geoengineering including its research, although it was a non-binding guidance. The agreed decision added numerous qualifiers and is complicated. It requests countries that "no climate-related geo-engineering activities that may affect biodiversity take place," in the absence of proper scientific knowledge and governance, while allowing for "small scale scientific research studies --- in a controlled setting." The decision also gives a tentative definition of geoengineering.
 Climate geoengineering is intended to counteract global warming by either reflecting sunlight or removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Although it is not an alternative to emissions reductions, scientists are paying increasing attention to this set of techniques because the slow progress of emissions reduction might lead to a possibility of "dangerous" climate change.
 At the COP10 in Nagoya, the delegates were not well informed about geoengineering, and negotiations were conducted in haste without proper scientific consideration.
 The following two points are particularly important with regard to the science of geoengineering: (1) There are two categories of geoengineering: solar radiation management (SRM) and carbon dioxide removal (CDR). The science and ecological impact vastly differ between the technologies, and it is difficult to impose a uniform regulation on geoengineering; (2) Owing to large uncertainties in the science of climate change, even a very stringent emissions reduction does not eliminate the risk of "dangerous" climate change. Emissions reductions would be too slow to counter it because of the inertia of the climate system. A blanket ban, as originally conceived, would not have been a wise option if one admitted a scenario of "dangerous" climate change. Viewed in this light, the agreed decision is a reasonable outcome, though the negotiation process was precarious.
 Geoengineering is likely to emerge as a crucial topic for environmental negotiations in the future. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is convening an expert meeting in June 2011. More efforts like this are necessary to better inform policymakers and citizens.

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