Tag Archives: earth system governance

A Moratorium on Geoengineering? Really?

In the end of October 2010, participants in the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) included in their agreement to protect biodiversity , a moratorium on geo­engineering. This CBD moratorium came timely as the debate around geoengineering virtually exploded internationally with several high-profile reports being published by, amongst others, the British Royal Society, and the U.S. Congress. The IPCC has announced it will organize several expert meetings in 2011 to focus on geoengineering, to help prepare the next review of climate science, due for completion in 2014.

But what does this “moratorium” really imply? This is not a trivial question considering the often acclaimed fragmentation of global environmental governance, and the fact that most geoengineering schemes would have impacts on additional planetary boundaries such as land use change and biodiversity. Two main (and highly simplified of course) interpretations seem to exist in a quite complicated legal debate.

One is that the CBD moratorium places a considerable limit on geoengineering experimentation and attempts. The only exception are “small-scale” controlled experiments that meet specific requirements, i.e.: that they are assumed in controlled settings and for explicit scientific purposes, are subject to prior environmental impact assessment, and have no impacts beyond national jurisdiction. Proponents of this position note that even if the CBD moratorium is not legally binding, governments launching large geoengineering experiments would “risk their credibility and diplomatic reputations”, a strong enough disincentive that effectively “blocks risky climate techno-fixes”. The Canadian NGO ETC Group elaborates this point here.

The second position instead highlights several points that undermine the strenght of the CBD moratorium. The first is that the agreement has no legally binding power, and that formal sanctioning mechanisms are absent. The CBD moratorium is “soft law” which implies that States  still could launch geoengineering schemes unilaterally. Note also that the United States has not formally ratified the CBD convention.

Second, even though the CBD moratorium might be seen as defining an upper limit on the scale of geoengineering experiments, key definitional questions remain to be teased out. What is to be defined as “small-scale” and  “experiment”? And what is its status compared to other related pieces of international law, such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the London Convention, and the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, just to mention a few.

Third, as the US Congressional Research Service notes in its report, international agreements are best equipped to deal with disputes between countries, and not necessarily between one country and one private actor, or between private actors that may shift locations to suit their interests (pp. 29). And major private or semi-private actors and funders are out there, including the Bill Gates and Richard Branson $4.6 million Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Resources, Ice911, Intellectual Ventures (see WJS article “Global warming might be solved with a helium balloon and a few miles of garden hose”), Carbon Engineeering, Planktos Foundation, and GreenSea Ventures (featured in Nature here).

So, do we really have a real, effective global moratorium on geoengineering? Far from it it seems. Feel free to disagree in the comment field below.

Originally posted in adaptiveness.wordpress.com

Institutional Dynamics and Emergent Patterns in Global Governance

Can environmental regimes really be viewed as complex dynamic systems? Oran Young makes a nice effort in his latest book “Institutional Dynamics – Emergent Patterns in International Environmental Governance” (MIT Press, 2010). While the study of environmental and resource regimes certainly has a strong track record in political science and international relations, Young makes a novel and detailed analysis of what he calls “emergent patterns” – patterns of institutional change that arise over time from the dynamics of complex systems (pp. 8). Young observes, and unpacks five patterns:

Progressive development: this patterns starts with a framework convention followed shortly by one or more substantive protocols that are amended and extended to accommodate new information. Example: stratospheric ozone, and the Montreal Protocol.

Punctuated equilibrium: this pattern occur in cases where regimes encounter periodic stresses which trigger episodes of regime building and change. Example: The Antarctic Treaty System.

Arrested development: here, regimes get off to a promising start but then run into barriers or obstacles that block further development. Example: climate change and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Diversion: this pattern includes regimes that are created for one purpose, but later are redirected in a manner that runs counter to the original purpose. Example: International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

Collapse: this pattern includes cases where regimes have been in operation for some time, but then encounters external or internal stresses and transforms into a “dead letter”. Example: North Pacific Sealing Convention.

Young recently published an article [PDF] for Global Environmental Change on this topic. You can also listen to an interview with him here.

The “Ctrl+Alt+Del” of Global Change Sciences

Twitter|@vgalaz
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This is one of those important things that seldom make the headlines. While climate change science has received considerable public attention, especially since the controversies around the IPCC scientific assessments, another fact is seldom, if ever, acknowledged – that  a number of international global change programmes are reorganizing to better match the increasing need for policy-relevant, integrated sustainability science.

The Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) as an example, has been reorganizing its work the last years, to better integrate the natural and social sciences and acknowledge the non-linear features of global change. This integration is to be developed by a range of ESSP associated research programmes and projects, including (prepare for an alphabet soup….) DIVERSITAS, IGBP, IHDP, WCRP,GCP, GECAFS, GWSP , GECHH, START and MAIRS. This paper lays out the thinking behind the ongoing reorganization.

One important change under the ESSP, and the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change, is the reorganization of the previous programme Institutional Dimensions of Global Environmental Change (IDGEC, lead by the international institutions legend Oran Young), into a new initiative: the Earth System Governance Project (ESG). The ESG, lead by Frank Biermann in Amsterdam, aims to study the role of multilevel governance, institutions and actor-networks in dealing with global environmental change, and includes several international research centres.

In addition, the International Council for Science (ICSU), in partnership with UNESCO and the United Nations University, is launching a new international initiative based on the insights and framework provided by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS). PECS ambition is to address the following question: ‘how do policies and practices affect resilience of the portfolio of ecosystem services that support human well-being and allow for adaptation to a changing environment?’. PECS will provide scientific knowledge to the newly launched “IPCC-like” Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). An article published in PNAS in 2009, lays out the thinking behind the PECS programme.

So, if you ever get the question “where are the scientists that will help save the world”, the answer is easy: it’s ESSP, PECS, DIVERSITAS, ICSU, IPBES, ESG, IHDP, IGBP, WCRP,GCP, GECAFS, ….

Relaunch of Adaptiveness and Innovation Blog

Yes, we are relaunching! For a couple of months in 2009, the Stockholm Resilience Centre hosted a small conference blog for the Amsterdam 2009 Conference on Earth System Governance. We posted a number of phone and Skype-interviews with prominent scholars in the field of earth system science and governance, with the ambition to explore the role of governance, institutions, networks and organizations in building adaptive capacity, and supporting innovation in an era of global environmental change.

After a quite successful experimental phase, we now move into the relaunch phase. That means: more blogposts, more authors, and (hopefully) a larger audience. The writing team now consists of an interesting mix of scientists ranging from resilience science, development studies, and network theory, to transition and innovation research. See the blog here, and meet the new team here.

This short animated interview with myself, pretty much summarizes what we intend to do with this digital platform. Enjoy!