Working Group on Marine Geoengineering

In September 2015 GESAMP discussed a proposal to establish a working group on marine geoengineering and concluded that a study was needed to:

  1. Better understand the potential environmental (and social/economic) impacts of different marine geoengineering approaches on the marine environment; and
  2. Provide advice to the London Protocol Parties to assist them in identifying those marine geoengineering techniques that it might be sensible to consider for listing in the new Annex 4 of the Protocol.

GESAMP established Working Group 41 on marine geoengineering in 2015 under the lead of IMO and supported by IOC of UNESCO and WMO, under the co-chairmanship of Dr. Chris Vivian and Professor Philip Boyd.

The report

The working group met in May 2016 and April 2017 and worked intersessionally to prepare a report of their deliberations. The working group published its first report in March 2019. It provides an initial high-level review of twenty-seven proposed marine geoengineering techniques - with its potential subsets - for climate mitigation that focuses on their efficacy, practicality, side-effects, knowledge gaps, verification and potential environmental and socio-economic impacts. The information that underpins each approach varies widely from sufficient to insufficient and suggests that a sequence of developments (from concept development, through to pilot studies, modelling and further studies) will assist in the transition from insufficient to sufficient information in order to permit scientific assessment.

The report made 3 recommendations for future work:

1 Further work is required to address more completely parts of ToR 2 that the WG was not able to fully address in this report, such as “The potential environmental and social/economic impacts of those marine geoengineering approaches on the marine environment and the atmosphere where appropriate” as well other parts yet to be addressed such as “An outline of the issues that would need to be addressed in an assessment framework for each of those techniques…”, .

2 Foster the development of socio-economic, geopolitical and other relevant societal aspects of marine geoengineering assessments, including societally relevant metrics where possible, to ensure a holistic approach to subsequent assessment process(es) (see National Research Council, 2015a). This multi-faceted approach can apply the lessons learnt from other large-scale environmental issues such as the management of anthropogenically-increased UV that resulted in the ‘ozone hole’. This holism will also be informed by the debates around new technologies with wider societal implications (genetically modified food; artificial intelligence; nanotechnology). Th is activity will require new members to be added to the WG to provide greater expertise on wider societal issues with a view to establishing a knowledge base and a subsequent analysis of the major gaps in socio-economics and geopolitics (see Figure 4.2).

3 Develop a flow chart and questionnaire with associated guidance to elicit information from proposers of geoengineering approaches to enable a preliminary assessment (including constructive feedback) of their technique. The design of this questionnaire will centre on the WG views of what fundamental knowledge is required to provide the scientific foundations needed with which to underpin the parallel development of effective policy to govern these activities. The flow chart and questionnaire with associated guidance would be expressly aimed to facilitate the London Protocol ‘Guidance for consideration of marine geoengineering activities’ (IMO, 2015). These dual tools, with associated guidance from the WG, could provide a recommended (non-binding) procedure for the consideration of such activities prior to activating the LP guidance referred to above (IMO, 2015). This proactive, consultative approach would also be useful for national authorities and other institutions considering marine geoengineering proposals.

The full report can be downloaded here.

Recent Activities

March 2019 workshop on societal issues of marine geoengineering techniques

This workshop was held at IMO in London from 26-27 March 2019 to develop an appreciation where the social sciences stand in terms of being able to contribute substantively to the work of the GESAMP WG and where the knowledge gaps are. Discussions covered:

  • International marine law
  • Public policy
  • Science & Technology Studies/Technology Assessment
  • Environmental economics
  • Public perception of technologies

In the time available, we were unable to get experts on ethics, security and international relations to the workshop, although we had a general discussion on ethics.

Throughout the presentations there were calls by speakers, representing a wide range of disciplines, to move away from use of the term ‘geoengineering’ towards that of ‘climate intervention’. This is consistent with other groups such as C2G2 which have dropped this term.

Based on the in-depth discussions, it appeared that all the disciplines planned to be covered in the workshop were relevant to the consideration of marine geoengineering. It will be challenging to be so inclusive in a revamped working group, as we will have to maintain a core of natural scientists, but there are some experts who can cover more than one discipline. The importance of framing the topics is very important as context and methods can affect outcomes. This issue was raised by almost every speaker regardless of their discipline.”

There was a general consensus that GESAMP WG 41 should integrate natural sciences and societal disciplines into a holistic assessment of marine geoengineering techniques and that a systems approach framework would be useful means to do this.

New Terms o f Reference for next phase of work

To be decided.

For more information on the first phase of the work plese see here