Neither the safety nor the effectiveness of ocean fertilization – adding iron or other ‘micronutrients’ to the sea to encourage plankton to grow – have been established and the method should not be touted as a cure for climate change until they have been, cautions the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
This warning is based on a Statement of Concern endorsed by the Parties to the London Convention and London Protocol, the international agreements that regulate dumping of wastes and other matter at sea.
According to an International Maritime Organization press briefing of 16 November 2007, Parties to the Convention and Protocol, unanimously adopted the June 2007 Statement of Concern issued by their scientific advisors that “knowledge about the effectiveness and potential environmental impacts of ocean iron fertilization is insufficient to justify large-scale operations”.
The idea behind the method is that micronutrients such as iron or urea will stimulate the growth of phytoplankton in the sea, which can absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Many scientists have critiqued the technology based on studies showing little if any potential for long term sequestration but a high likelihood of damage to the marine environment.
They have also noted the possibility that ocean fertilization could promote further climate change by stimulating the production of far more potent greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide. Nevertheless, some companies are already promoting this method and are selling carbon offsets to the public to support their research.
The IPCC Working Group III report on Mitigation of Climate Change describes ocean fertilization as “speculative and unproven, with the risk of unknown side effects”. In that respect, Parties to the London Convention and Protocol called for “further study (of) the issue from the scientific and legal perspectives with a view to its regulation” and “urges states to use the utmost caution when considering proposals for large-scale ocean fertilization operations”.
Kristina Gjerde, High Seas Policy Adviser to the World Conservation Union, said: “Speculative technologies and unregulated voluntary markets for carbon offsets are a potentially lethal brew. This statement of concern sends a clear message to governments, soon to meet for next month’s UN climate conference in Bali, about the need to consider the full range of impacts of proposed geo-engineering fixes and to ensure that they are properly regulated to prevent adverse impacts on the environment.”
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