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Fair Weather Foes: UN Bans Geoengineering Research

So much for our vision of cloud-spraying ships scattered in oceans around the globe. Future research into geoengineering, or the deliberate manipulation of the Earth's climate, has been banned by the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (CBD)—at least until a strong scientific basis for said activities can be established.

According to the Washington Post, the UN's measure reads, "that no climate-related geo-engineering activities that may affect biodiversity take place, until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities and appropriate consideration of the associated risks for the environment and biodiversity and associated social, economic and cultural impacts, with the exception of small-scale scientific research studies." That's a ban that covers many of the geoengineering techniques we explored in a recent slideshow on the subject, including algae-lined buildings, spraying sewater into clouds, and painting glaciers white. Carbon capture and storage will, however, still be allowed.

The ban also won't affect countries who haven't ratified the CBD (193 countries did ratify the convention)—and that includes the United States, which last week released the first congressional report on geoengineering. The report (PDF) leaves room for future geoengineering research:

A research moratoria that stifles science, especially at this stage in our understanding of climate engineering’s risks and benefits, is a step in the wrong direction and undercuts the importance of scientific transparency. The global community is best served by research that is both open and accountable. If climate change is indeed one of the greatest long-term threats to biological diversity and human welfare, then failing to understand all of our options is also a threat to biodiversity and human welfare.

So geoengineering proponents can relax; research won't end entirely anytime soon. But without the whole world on board, large-scale geoengineering projects could prove difficult. Let's hope the CBD eventually decides to leave its options open. That's the least we could to do to secure the planet's future.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.