What we don’t know about geoengineering and biodiversity

by Nicholas Harrison and Kai-Uwe Schmidt

On Montreal’s hottest day since records began, we met with leading technical experts to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to present a new Technical Briefing Paper exploring what we do and don’t know about geoengineering and biodiversity.

This paper, produced by C2G2 with analytical support from colleagues at the Mercator Research Institute for Global Commons and Climate Change, identifies knowledge gaps around ethics, governance, deployment and research, and suggests some next steps to develop research and governance.

You can read a summary of the July 6 side event here.

In particular, it asks important questions about governance and regulatory frameworks around the world. Who are the decision-making actors? What institution(s) are (or would be) responsible for the monitoring, evaluation and verification of geoengineering technologies?

What regulatory frameworks exist at the local, regional and international levels, and how is the policy process being shaped? How can society effectively design a decision-making process that ensures multi-stakeholder engagement?

The paper also identifies challenges around research – how might knowledge-sharing and enhanced access to information strengthen research; why is there a lack of interest in on-the- ground research and more interest on processes? –  and ethical issues.

For example, does a focus on geoengineering technologies divert from other techniques and approaches to reducing emissions? What safeguards and emergency measures are being researched or proposed for the various scales of research taking place?

Finally, the paper points to knowledge gaps around deployment. How might geoengineering technologies impact biodiversity? What are the cost and benefits of nature-based solutions (e.g. ecosystem-based approaches) versus other geoengineering technologies? How applicable is research conducted in one country for another country or region?

It suggests a number of practical steps to address these questions through the CBD. These include:

  1. Identifying and involving other relevant institutions and actors, such as IPCC, IPBES, International Resources Panel, UNEA, UNFCCC;
  2. Assessing which existing institutions can lead the discussions, or whether there is a need for a new institution to regulate geoengineering research governance;
  3. Identifying and enhancing synergies between processes and discussions held at UNFCCC and CBD (and other biodiversity-related conventions);
  4. Enhancing multilateral and multi-disciplinary learning through, for example, establishing an international research group, or organising an international conference;
  5. Developing frameworks and guidance for national governments on how to address these issues nationally (e.g. through enhanced discussions between CBD focal points);
  6. Creating or fostering the creation of protocols, ethical frameworks or codes of conduct and guidelines for geoengineering research (and/or deployment).

Later this year, the biennial UN Biodiversity Conference in Egypt provides an important opportunity to advance this conversation, and to develop a clearer understanding of how future action under the CBD might strengthen global geoengineering governance.

As communities, ecosystems and economies around the world reel from the impacts of record-breaking heat this summer, considering whether or not geoengineering has a role to play in protecting biodiversity has become an increasingly hot topic.

There are still many questions to be answered, but the conversation is now well underway.


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