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Open letter by CBD Alliance members to the UNFCCC: „Geoengineering is a distraction from the real priorities – emission reductions“

Bonn, 16.11.2017                                                                                                                                                                                 

To: UNFCCC party representatives and delegates,
researchers in IPCC and UNFCCC stakeholders

Geoengineering is a distraction from the real priorities – Emission reductions

Dear UNFCCC party representatives and delegates, dear researchers in IPCC and UNFCCC stakeholders,

NDCs submitted to the UNFCCC so far clearly fail the ambition needed to put us on track for limiting climate change to 1.5°C rise. As it becomes more and more evident that there is a lack of political will to substantially decrease climate gas output, discussions on how to reach the 1.5°C target agreed in Paris turn more and more to  uncertain and unavailable technologies for removing carbon from the atmosphere, in short geoengineering. The draft IPCC AR6 also mentions this issue in its outline, and new geoengineering experiments are planned (see 13 November’s ECO article “This is Not a Drill: Geoengineering is on the Rise”).

Wishful thinking about technologies that may or may not one day become available carries the risk of legitimizing „business-as-usual-policies“. They do not increase and may even decrease political will to address the root causes: powerful and unsustainable production and consumption patterns. They tend to postpone or replace pathways to systemic holistic change, which can deliver multiple benefits against climate change, biodiversity loss, and desertification. Without these benefits the 2030 Agenda is meaningless.

Proposals for geoengineering, including experiments, distract dangerously from the real priority – immediate unilateral reduction of emissions caused directly or indirectly by the global north, who bear most responsibility for them. Only this can build the trust we need to really tackle climate change and biodiversity loss.

Only yesterday, the executive secretaries of the three Rio Conventions issued a joint statement calling for assistance to address links between climate change, biodiversity and desertification threats. Civil society has long been making this connection and therefore, the members of the CBD Alliance present at this meeting would kindly inform or remind delegates that the issue of geoengineering has been extensively discussed at the CBD COPs since 2008  and that, as a result, any kind of geoengineering has been subjected to a moratorium (CBD decision X/33, paragraphs 8 w and x). This has been scrutinized at following COPs which have always reaffirmed the moratorium (CBD decision XIII/14, para 1) since.

With the exception of the US, the parties to CBD and UNFCCC are the same, and both conventions are nearly universal. We therefore urgently call on the parties of the UNFCCC to respect the CBD decisions agreed by consensus by their own governments, which apply to them as well. Pacta sunt servanda, as the Vienna Convention on the law of treaties rightly points out in its article 26: “Every treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith”.

Thank you and best regards.

List of signatories – CBD Alliance members:

BUND – Friends of the Earth Germany
Pro Natura – FoE Switzerland
Friends of the Earth International
Attac France
Global Nature Fund
New Wind Association (Finland)
Centar za životnu sredinu– FoE Bosnia
Ethological Society of India
ICCA Consortium
USC Canada
SAN Germany
Coordination Office of the Austrian Bishop’s Conference for International Development and Mission (KOO)
Tim Cadman BA (Hons) MA (Cantab), PhD (Tasmania), Grad. Cert. Theol. (Charles Sturt) Griffith University
Gesellschaft für ökologische Forschung
Mangrove Action Project


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  1. I agree that we should be very careful about pinning our hopes on solar radiation management. However, the global climate stabilization goals agreed to in Paris are not going to be met without carbon dioxide removal (CDR) from the atmosphere. Emission reductions have been too little and too late to get us to where we need to be. CDR is no distraction because we need the most aggressive emissions reductions possible as well as CDR to stabilize at 1.5 or 2 degrees C. In fact, 1.5 degrees C is already impossible without CDR, and 2 degrees C will be impossible without CDR if global society is not carbon neutral by the mid 2030s, and unfortunately that is not going to happen.

    • I disagree. Whether or not we choose to much more radically reduce emissions, change our production and consumption patterns and restore our natural ecosystems OR go for large technological schemes that might or might not in the end work to draw carbon from the atmosphere but have certainly other major problems when it comes to fulfilling the SGDs are societal and political choices!

      • This fear of ‚large technological schemes‘ is a misnomer. How large do you think the scheme is by which we all change the way we live and turn around the way we heat houses, travel, redesign industry, etc? That is indeed all necessary.

        It is nonsensical to exclude additional methods where e.g. by changing agriculture, nature conservation, architecture, we can absorb some CO2 or cool down the earth. There are many ideas for Carbon Dioxide Removal, and none of them is anywhere as large scale as current ‚large scale technology‘. Trying those ideas is certainly not inconsistent with now implementing the ‚large technological schemes‘ to reduce our current emissions.

        Always be very careful when you say: „we should FIRST do this thing I like to do, before anybody else is even allowed to think about another solution“.