Marine Geoengineering: Assessing its Environmental Effects

Marine geoengineering techniques may have potential for mitigating the effects of climate change but could have adverse impacts on the marine environment.

The Scientific Groups which report to the Parties to the treaties which regulate the dumping of wastes at sea (London Convention and Protocol or LC/LP) agreed at their 2023 meeting (13-17 March) that four marine geoengineering techniques, identified in a statement on marine geoengineering adopted by the treaties’ governing bodies in 2022, have the potential to cause deleterious effects that are widespread, long-lasting or severe.

The four marine geoengineering techniques involve either carbon dioxide removal (CDR) or solar radiation management (SRM): ocean alkalinity enhancement and electrochemical CDR; biomass cultivation for carbon removal; marine cloud brightening; and surface albedo enhancement involving reflective particles and/or other materials.

Active research is underway involving these four marine geoengineering techniques. However, there is considerable uncertainty regarding the effects on the marine environment, human health, and on other uses of the ocean.

The Scientific Groups, which met in Casablanca, Morocco, agreed that they should continue to monitor this topic and carry out further work to enable the London Convention and Protocol Parties to make informed decisions and take appropriate actions, including potential further regulation.

In 2008 Parties to the London Protocol and London Convention adopted a resolution (LC-LP.1 (2008)), which states that ocean fertilization activities fall within the purview of the LC/LP and that ocean fertilization activities other than legitimate scientific research should not be allowed.

A further resolution (LC-LP.2 (2010)) on the “Assessment Framework for Scientific Research involving Ocean Fertilization” said that proposed research projects should be assessed to determine if they qualify as legitimate scientific research.

Together, these resolutions apply to all London Convention Contracting Parties, and continue to apply to London Protocol Contracting Parties, pending the entry into force of the 2013 amendment to the London Protocol. 

The 2013 amendment will, when in force, create a legally binding regime providing a science based, global, transparent and effective regulatory and control mechanism for marine geoengineering. The amendment enables the future regulation of marine geoengineering techniques that fall within the scope of the London Protocol and have the potential to cause widespread, long-lasting or severe impacts on the marine environment.

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