August 29, 2019

Proposed standard threatens to undermine climate agreements, entrench geoengineering

Who is behind backroom push to undermine climate standards?

DAVAO, MONTREAL AND MEXICO CITY—A report from Agence France-Presse has revealed a new effort to establish the basis for a market for “climate credits” for the use of geoengineering technologies. Civil society groups are denouncing the closed-door negotiations at the International Standards Organization (ISO) that could undermine efforts to curb climate change. 

The proposed standard, according to the report, aims to establish “radiative forcing” as basis for addressing climate change, instead of reduction of greenhouse gases. If implemented, the standard would completely change the present way of measuring climate change, and could undermine the Paris Agreement. 

A standard based on radiative forcing could create financial incentives for activities that block sunlight at high altitudes or other interventions that allow heat to escape. The move raises concerns that certain players are attempting to lay the groundwork for a market for solar geoengineering activities, similar to the existing market in “carbon credits.” 

This raises the question of who is pushing for a new radiative forcing standard at the UN.

“The US has consistently been undermining climate negotiations for a long time,” said Neth Daño, ETC Group´s Co-Executive Director based in Philippines. “They left the Paris Agreement and they recently opposed any discussion of geoengineering governance at the UN Environment Assembly.” 

“The question is, who is trying to establish new metrics for climate action that would pave the way for deployment and commercialization of geoengineering?” she added. “Is this is an attempt to stage a coup on global climate governance?”

Solar geoengineering: risks and global moratorium

Solar geoengineering is an extremely risky technology that involves blocking sunlight from entering the atmosphere or reflect it back, in an attempt to lower the Earth’s temperature. Research suggests that such attempts to manipulate the global climate system could create severe droughts in Africa, and disrupt the monsoon in Asia.

Concerns have also been raised that if infrastructure to modify the global climate is put in place, it could be used as a weapon, by targeting certain regions for climate disruption. Until now, few have seriously proposed such a plan, and previous attempts to stage open-air trials have been cancelled after public outcry. 

Because it is so risky, the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), with 196 member-states, has put in place a moratorium on geoengineering implementation. The US has not ratified the Convention.

One of the main groups attempting to advance solar geoengineering is the Harvard Solar Geoengineering Research Program, which is pressing to make the first open-air experiment (SCoPEx) to advance solar geoengineering. 

A diverse, global coalition of environmental, Indigenous and farmers’ organizations oppose this initiative and other attempts to implement geoengineering experiments. Indigenous communities directly in the path of SCoPEx have already indicated that they do not consent to the experiment moving forward.

Radiative forcing: attempt to radically undermine existing climate efforts

Leaked documents from the proposed ISO standard on radiative forcing suggest that corporations involved in spraying sun-blocking chemicals into the upper atmosphere could benefit from a financial windfall.

“Shifting to radiative forcing would be the dream for investors backing solar geoengineering,” said Jim Thomas, Co-Executive Director of ETC Group based in Quebec. ”Until now, solar geoengineering has been rightfully kept out of carbon markets.” 

With the US President’s hiring of geoengineering enthusiasts early in the mandate and reports of his recent repeated inquiries about using nuclear weapons to stop hurricanes, there could be reason to worry that the US is behind the latest push at the ISO.

“This is a way of undermining the international moratorium at the UN, and of forcing the most risky geoengineering techniques on the rest of the world,” Thomas added.

Recent research has revealed that fossil fuel companies have been promoting and researching solar geoengineering for decades, and the ISO discussions are known to be dominated by industrial interests, while lacking spaces for civil society input.

Many key voices are excluded from the ISO process, from civil society and Indigenous peoples to environment and biodiversity experts from governments.

“The ISO is a heavily technical organization,” said Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group’s Latin America Director. “Its standards affect millions of people, without them knowing the discussion is even taking place.” But now, she says, the stakes are higher.

“The radiative forcing standard could substantially affect the lives of billions of people and change the fate of entire continents for the worse.”

“Geoengineering is a reckless and dangerous false solution to climate change, and a useful excuse for companies that profit from burning more fossil fuel,” Ribeiro added. “Geoengineering could cause profound damage to Indigenous territories, peasant lands and local communities—that’s why the ISO standard on radiative forcing must be stopped in its tracks.”


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