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«ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH OF THE FEDERAL MINISTRY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, NATURE CONSERVATION, BUILDING AND NUCLEAR SAFETY Project No. (FKZ) 3711 11101 ...»

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5.1.2.4 State responsibility The rules on state responsibility comprise the general conditions under which a state is responsible for wrongful actions or omissions, and the resulting legal consequences. The International Law Commission’s Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts of 2001 (“Articles on State Responsibility”) 79 for the most part reflect customary law, although some concepts may not be universally accepted. These rules apply to geoengineering activities, but they do not determine which geoengineering activities are permitted or prohibited. Instead, they apply only if geoengineering activities breach an international obligation. 80 Unless there are specific rules taking precedence, the rules on state responsibility apply to all existing or new obligations regarding geoengineering and provide a general framework for determining the legal consequences of such breach.

Establishing responsibility of a state for geoengineering would require that

• the geoengineering activity is attributable to that state under international law,

• the geoengineering activity constitutes a breach of an international obligation of that state, and

• there are no circumstances precluding the wrongfulness. 81 In respect of attributing a geoengineering activity to a state, the scale required for global impacts would probably make it possible to detect and attribute such activities, using global information systems and technology such as satellite observation. 82 However, attributing a certain activity to a state is not the same as establishing that the particular requirements for a breach of an obligation are met. For instance, a breach of an international obligation might require that certain impacts are caused by the activity in question. An activity might be Cf. the CBD’s draft guidance on biodiversity-inclusive strategic environmental assessment, decision VIII/28 and document UNEP/CBD/COP/8/27/Add.2.

Annex to UNGA Res. A/RES/56/83 of 12.12.2001.

In this sense, the International Law Commission (ILC) uses the term “secondary rules”.

Articles 2 and 20-27.

Bodle (2010) 306.

Options and Proposals for the International Governance of Geoengineering attributable to a state while it can remain difficult or impossible to prove that it caused such impacts.

States are generally not responsible for the conduct of private actors. However, a state may be responsible for itw own conduct in relation to the conduct of private actors if it failed to take necessary measures to prevent the conduct or its effects. 83 Whether and to what extent a state has an obligation to take such measures depends on the obligation in question and the particular case. For instance, in June 2012 a large-scale ocean fertilisation experiment was conducted by a American private company off the Canadian coast, which sparked media headlines alleging a “violation” of “UN rules”, meaning decisions by the COPs of the CBD and the LC/LP. 84 Even if the these decisions imposed binding restrictions under international law, they would apply to the parties to the respective regime to which these rules belong, but they would not bind a private the company. However, Canada or the US could potentially have been in breach of obligations by not restricting or preventing the experiment in some way. This not only presupposes that the “rules” on question were binding obligations on these states, but also that these obligations required these states to take specific measures to prevent the experiment and that the failed to meet these requirements. This is difficult to determine in the abstract.

State responsibility does not as such require fault or negligence of the state. Again, the conduct required or prohibited and the standards to be observed depend on the obligation in question and the particular case (cf. above on the duty to prevent transboundary harm). 85 Assuming a case in which a particular geoengineering activity would be attributable to a state and would constitute a breach of an international obligation, it is unclear whether a state could avoid responsibility by relying on circumstances precluding wrongfulness, in particular necessity. 86 For instance, a state causing transboundary environmental harm by geoengineering might argue that it is particularly affected by climate change and claim distress or necessity as a legal defense. 87 The consequences of state responsibility include legal obligations to cease the activity, to offer appropriate assurances and guarantees of non-repetition, if circumstances so require, and to make full reparation for the injury caused. 88 However, the Articles on State Responsibility do not include institutions or procedures to enforce these obligations.

In addition to the rules on state responsibility, the ILC has also pursued concepts addressing harmful effects of hazardous acts that do not contravene international law. 89 However, at this stage these proposals do not amount to customary law and it remains to be seen to what extent they could influence legal aspects of geoengineering.

ILC, Draft Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, with commentaries 2001, 39.

“World's biggest geoengineering experiment 'violates' UN rules, The Guardian, 15. October 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/oct/15/.

Bodle et al (2011) para 34.





Articles on State Responsibility, Article 25.

Bodle (2010) 308.

Articles 30 and 31 of the Articles on State Responsibility.

ILC, Draft articles on prevention of transboundary harm from hazardous activities, UN Doc. A/56/10 and Corr.1;

ILC, Draft principles on the allocation of loss in the case of transboundary harm arising out of hazardous activities, UN Doc. A/RES/61/36.

Options and Proposals for the International Governance of Geoengineering 5.1.2.5 Other principles Other key concepts mentioned in the environmental debate that could be of relvance to geoengineering governance are in particular sustainable development and inter-generational equity. Although these concepts are frequently mentioned in key instruments and documents, there is no consensus that these concepts are legal principles or have acquired status as customary law.

5.1.2.6 ENMOD Treaty The ENMOD Convention is a treaty that appears to apply to geoengineering as it addresses environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects.

Originally intended to restrict deliberate attempts at weather modification as a means of warfare, 90 it provides rules and procedures that could apply to geoengineering when used for hostile or military purposes as well as definitions which may be useful to consider as precedents for other processes.

However, the ENMOD Convention’s applicability to geoengineering is limited by its material scope, its limited number of parties 91 and the lack of practice to draw from. 92 It expressly applies without prejudice to the use for peaceful purposes, according to the preamble, article III and the Understanding relating to Article III ENMOD. In other words, it only applies in armed conflict. Although it may be tempting for a state to unilaterally regard a particular geoengineering activity as “hostile” and therefore prohibited, this should be determined in accordance with the laws of armed conflict. The distinction between the law applying in peacetime and the law of armed conflict is crucial and should not easily be eroded. 93 The main substantial obligation under ENMOD is that the Parties in Article I ENMOD are prohibited from engaging in “military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects as the means of destruction, damage or injury to any other State Party”. Article II ENMOD provides a broad definition of environmental modification techniques comprising “any technique for changing - through the deliberate manipulation of natural processes - the dynamics, composition or structure of the Earth, including its biota, lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, or of outer space”. An interpretative understanding 94 provides further definitions and clarifies that its scope covers ENMOD preamble, first sentence: “Guided by the interest of [... ] saving mankind from the danger of using new means of warfare”.

It has 74 Parties, of which only few have acceded in recent years, http://treaties.un.org accessed on 31.10.2010.

However, key states that are parties to it include Brazil, China, India, Japan, USA, United Kingdom and Russia, cf. Bodle (2010) 312-313.

For instance, the ENMOD Convention was not applicable to actions in the 1991 Gulf war such as the burning of oil fields by Iraq, because Iraq had not ratified it, United States Department of Defense report to Congress on the conduct of the Persian Gulf conflict. Appendix O: The Role of the law of war, 31 ILM 612 (1992): 616.

Bodle (2010) 312.

The understanding is not part of the treaty but is part of the negotiating record and was included in the report of the negotiating Committee to the United Nations General Assembly. It can guide interpretation in accordance with Art. 31 (2) and (4) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Options and Proposals for the International Governance of Geoengineering inducing changes in climate patterns, which would arguably apply to at least some geoengineering concepts. 95 Although the ENMOD Convention is not directly applicable in peacetime and was not designed to govern contemporary geoengineering technologies, it is argued that some of its concepts could be considered in addressing geoengineering governance. 96 For instance, Article V ENMOD provides for a rudimentary implementation procedure through a Consultative Committee of Experts and also envisages dispute resolution through a complaint procedure to the UN Security Council.

5.1.2.7 CBD Decisions At CBD COP10 in 2010, the parties went beyond previous decisions addressing ocean fertilisation and adopted a decision addressing geoengineering in general (“the CBD geoengineering decision”). 97 Decision X/33, para 8(w) appears to be the only all-encompassing governance measure at this level to date: The chapeau “invites Parties and other Governments, according to national circumstances and priorities,” to consider the guidance given by this

decision, which includes the following subparagraph (w) on geoengineering:

“Ensure, in line and consistent with decision IX/16 C, on ocean fertilization and biodiversity and climate change, in the absence of science based, global, transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanisms for geoengineering, and in accordance with the precautionary approach and Article 14 of the Convention, that no climaterelated geoengineering activities that may affect biodiversity take place, until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities and appropriate consideration of the associated risks for the environment and biodiversity and associated social, economic and cultural impacts, with the exception of small scale scientific research studies that would be conducted in a controlled setting in accordance with Article 3 of the Convention, and only if they are justified by the need to gather specific scientific data and are subject to a thorough prior assessment of the potential impacts on the environment;” Although the CBD geoengineering decision is not binding, it represents the consensus of 193 parties. The US is not a party, although as a signatory it is under an obligation not to defeat its object and purpose (Article 18 VCLT) - which, however, is unlikely to include any COP decisions or specific paragraphs thereof. Besides the on-going debate on semi-legal and de facto implications of COP decisions within treaty regimes, the decisions also send a political signal that would be difficult to ignore in practice, solely on the grounds that they are not binding.

As a result of political compromise, the language of the decision text is not entirely clear. On the basis of detailed analyses of the decision elsewhere, 98 the main implications of the decision

can be summarised as follows:

Although the wording of the operative part includes terms such as “ensure” and “shall”, which usually signify clear legal obligations, the chapeau of the relevant paragraph merely “invites” The understanding is not part of the treaty but is part of the negotiating record and was included in the report of the negotiating Committee to the United Nations General Assembly.

Bodle et al (2012) 130.

UNEP/CBD/COP/DEC/X/33, www.cbd.int/cop10/doc/.



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