Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ocean fertilization project is going ahead

LOHAFEX, the joint German-Indian project to dump twenty tons of iron sulfate into the Southern Ocean over a 300 square kilometer area, is going forward after a whirlwind environmental impact assessment (EIA). ASOC and the environmental community are disappointed to say the least, and you can read ASOC's press release here. The German Ministry of Research approved it even though the German Ministry of Environment strongly objected, citing that the project was probably in violation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to which Germany is a signatory. The German Environment Minister, furthermore, was chair of a CBD conference that passed a resolution discouraging ocean fertilization projects. In an English language press release following the Research Ministry's approval, the Environment Ministry stated that it believes LOHAFEX to be in violation of the CBD. It also states that it is unclear whether previous fertilization experiments have had any effectiveness, and that the risks to ecosystems are unknown. Without evidence of effectiveness, and uncertainty over impacts, it is hard to see why the project is going forward.

The Research Ministry's speed-EIA process has done little to allay the concerns of the environmental community and the Environment Ministry. ASOC first heard that belated environmental impact assessments would be performed (belated because they should have been done before the project's ship set out for the experiments site and were not) around January 15. The Research Ministry received and reviewed these assessments and issued a decision by January 26. Hardly enough time for the assessors and the Ministry to gather enough information. Also upsetting is the apparent position of the project's director, who has indicated that he believes that the project will pave the way for future fertilization projects to mitigate climate change. This is despite the clear international consensus (at least in the fora where such issues have been discussed) that any fertilization projects that DO go through after extensive EIAs should be small-scale and only for basic research at this point. Even if the project doesn't cause any environmental harm, the lack of consideration of potential impacts, and the desire to conduct rather hastily a project that could drastically alter an ecosystem are extremely troubling.

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