Canada in violation of international obligations to the CBD

Ocean-fertilisation & Geoengineeiring scheme

(1 page)
September, 2012

Helena Paul

ECO 44(10)

While Parties at COP11 were considering Climate-Related Geoengineering (Agenda item 11.2), evidence was provided that Canada had broken the geoengineering moratorium. It had failed to prevent a geoengineering scheme from being carried out in the Pacific ocean, close to the Canadian west coast. The scheme involved dumping around one hundred tonnes of iron sulphate into the ocean in July 2012. This created a plankton bloom that spread across some 10,000 square km of ocean. It was so large that it attracted the attention of ocean researchers. The scheme has also created a media bloom that is spreading around the planet, initiated by the UK Guardian on Monday 15th October 2012. The one place where it does not seem so far to have penetrated is COP11 - and the CBD is where the geoengineering and ocean fertilisation moratoria were born. There are many facets to this story. It turns out that one of the people behind the scheme is the former chief executive of Planktos Inc. This company formerly sought to carry out commercial dumping projects near the Galapagos and Canary Islands, and got into trouble with the Spanish and Ecuadorean governments, which honoured the moratorium and banned the experiments.

The initiator of the Canadian scheme apparently intended that it should yield lucrative carbon credits, something expressly prohibited under the moratorium (Decision IX/16, Section C, para 4). Indigenous People of the islands of Haida Gwaii were persuaded to set up the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation and to channel their own funds into a 'salmon enhancement project', which they were persuaded would revive their salmon catch and enhance the local ocean ecosystem. The Indigenous Peoples may well not have been aware that they were violating two UN conventions, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the London Convention/London Protocol (LC/LP) on the dumping of wastes in the sea. Both agreements prohibit commercial ocean fertilisation activities. Even scientific research would have to be small-scale, within a controlled setting and fully assessed for biodiversity, environmental and other impacts in advance. However, the Canadian government apparently did know what was planned. The President of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation claims that he informed a number of departments in the Canadian government, including Environment Canada and the National Research Council. The Press Secretary of the Office of the Minister of the Environment has informed that Environment Canada enforcement officers met with representatives of the company in May 2012, told them that ocean fertilisation is not permitted and gave them ‘fact sheets’ to this effect at the meeting.

Environment Canada also claims that they never received an application to carry out ocean fertilisation. Environment Canada Enforcement Branch is currently investigating what they call a possible incident and declined to comment. It was therefore very worrying to hear Canada’s delegation argue on Thursday that they cannot agree with confining geoengineering experiments to controlled laboratory conditions, because certain techniques cannot be explored without experiments in the environment. Are 10,000 square kilometres of contaminated waters what they mean?

… So what is the CBD going to do about it?

What are the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity going to do about this violation of two moratoria under the CBD: that on ocean fertilisation adopted in 2008, the details of which are set out under the London Convention, and the 2010 moratorium on geoengineering? This issue must be discussed in Fridays’ plenary. Parties to the CBD made commitments and entered obligations that they further elaborate jointly at the Conferences of the Parties. Parties who knowingly breach their commitments and obligations are failing other Parties, and the relationship between people and biodiversity in their own countries and internationally.