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Marine geoengineering – assessing the impacts on the marine environment

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LONDON : Marine geoengineering techniques proposed for mitigating the effects of climate change 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.

A 2019 report published by the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) provides an overview of a wide range of marine geoengineering techniques.

CO2 sequestration in the sub-seabed

Noting the ocean-climate connection had been given substantial attention at COP 27 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2022, and the increasing interest in this matter from a number of countries, regions and industry, the Scientific Groups established a Correspondence Group on experiences with the carbon dioxide streams assessment guidelines to collect information regarding experiences with the application of the guidelines to work towards a review of them. The guidelines were developed in 2012.

Disposal of fibreglass vessels

Noting that fibreglass reinforced plastic (FRP) vessels are not suitable for placement as artificial reefs or for disposal at sea, the Groups continued the development of guidance on alternatives to end-of-life management of FRP vessels. They further noted the urgency of this issue for SIDS and LDCs.

Revised guidance on removal of anti-fouling coatings from ships

Following the adoption by MEPC of amendments to the Anti-fouling Systems (AFS) Convention to introduce controls on cybutryne, the Scientific Groups revised the guidance on best management practices for the removal of anti-fouling coatings from ships, including TBT hull paints to reflect the amendments. The updated guidance was forwarded to the governing bodies meeting in October for approval.

London Protocol/London Convention

The objective of the London Protocol and Convention is to promote the effective control of all sources of marine pollution. Contracting Parties shall take effective measures to prevent pollution of the marine environment caused by dumping at sea.

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