01 June 2008

UN conference scraps 'ocean fertilization'

Touted as weapon to fight warming. Adding nutrients to spur algae growth could threaten marine life, accord says

Madeline Chambers, Reuters
The Gazette - June 1, 2008
Original URL

Nearly 200 countries agreed yesterday to a moratorium on projects to fight climate change by adding nutrients to the seas to spur growth of carbon-absorbing algae.

The surprise deal followed 12 days of haggling at the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity conference where Australia, Brazil and China opposed until the last minute, halting the controversial plans for "ocean fertilization."

Opponents argue the little-tested process has unknown risks which could threaten marine life, for instance by making the oceans more acidic. Those in favour say it could be a new weapon to fight global warming.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, hosting the talks, announced the accord on the final day of the conference at which some 5,000 delegates from 191 countries tried to agree on ways of protecting animal and plant life on earth.

"It's a very strange idea that technology can solve everything. It's very risky and shows what humans are ready to do. I'm glad we came to a de facto moratorium," he told reporters.

During the conference, delegates and environmentalists have consistently said that human activity and greenhouse gas emissions are causing the most serious spate of extinctions since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. Three species vanish every hour, they say.

This has major economic consequences and has heightened worries about a recent surge in world food prices because of booming demand as experts say wild stocks are vital to the long-term sustainability of crops.

Gabriel said the conference put the issue of biodiversity on the political agenda. But activists said progress is too slow.

"The UN Biodiversity summit inches forward like a snail while animals and plants are being wiped out at great speed," said Martin Kaiser, head of Greenpeace's delegation in Bonn.

© The Gazette (Montreal) 2008

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