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Dumping, defined as deliberate disposal in the maritime area from vessels, aircraft, or offshore installations, is generally not permitted by Convention Parties (Article 1(f), 4). Based on the analysis of LC/LP and UNCLOS above, ocean liming would fall under this definition, and not be exempt under one of the exceptions for certain materials (Annex II). 353 However, there is another exemption, similar to the LC/LP and UNCLOS, for “placement of matter for a purpose other than the mere disposal thereof, provided that, if the placement is for a purpose other than that for which the matter was originally designed or constructed, it is in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention” (Article 1(g)(ii)). The arguments in favour of or against ocean liming falling under this exception would likely be along the lines of LC/LP and UNCLOS. Additional provisions regulating point source discharges to the maritime area and releases to water that may reach and affect the maritime area, are relevant for liming via pipelines or rivers and are subject to strict authorisation, regulation, and monitoring by authorities. (Annex 1, Article 2).

The regional 1992 UNECE Convention on the Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes sets forth rules and principles for protection of transboundary water systems. Where Parties performed ocean liming by adding alkaline materials to rivers in a transboundary system, this would have to be in accordance with the obligation to take all appropriate measures to prevent, control and reduce any transboundary impact (Article 2(1)).

In addition to procedural obligations on Rivarian parties, other river-specific conventions may also apply depending upon geographic location of application.

The MARPOL Convention allows designation of specially protected Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs) that may be especially vulnerable to oil pollution. (Annex I, Regulation 1(10)).

MARPOL permits navigational restrictions on ships passing through these areas. While intended to reduce oil pollution, the restriction in these areas on “discharge into the sea contain[ing] chemicals or other substances in quantities or concentrations which are hazardous to the marine environment,” (Annex 1, Regulation 10(3)(b)) could be interpreted to apply to vessel-based dumping of liming materials and would apply to the Great Barrier Reef 354, as well as the Mediterranean, Baltic, Black, and Red Seas. (Annex 1, Regulation 10(1)). Other restrictions on vessels in these areas (e.g. equipment requirements, vessel tracking, monitoring) might apply as well. 355 The Great Barrier Reef is also protected internationally under World Heritage Convention.

As discussed for the LP liming materials would not qualify as “inert materials of natural origin, that is solid, chemically unprocessed geological material the chemical constituents of which are unlikely to be released into the marine environment.” (Annex II, Article 3(2) (b)).

Coral reefs could be a target area for protection through liming.

See http://www.imo.org/OurWork/Environment/PollutionPrevention/PSSAs/Pages/Default.aspx.

Options and Proposals for the International Governance of Geoengineering Should ocean liming activities be performed in Antarctic waters, provisions of the Antarctic Treaty System would correspondingly apply. 356 In sum, ocean liming could fall under provisions restricting “dumping” under several instruments, but it is not clear under either of these whether it could qualify as “placement” and thus be exempt from the definition of dumping.

5.1.9 Ocean biomass storage

Ocean biomass storage involves deposition of crop residues or other terrestrial vegetative material into deep ocean waters. Biomass would be dumped from ships and sunk with heavy materials at depths from 1000 to 1500m, on or in the seabed. 357 Deep ocean conditions (e.g. cold, oxygen deficiency, lack of enzymes required for cellulosic degradation) would severely slow decomposition of the organic materials, thus fixing carbon dioxide for possibly thousands of years. 358 It has been estimated that this technique could offer 92% efficiency in sequestration and capture 15% of the global CO2 annual increase. 359 This technique is viewed as particularly beneficial due to its capacity to capture large quantities of carbon, efficient sequestration, repeatability, relative permanence, limited known side effects, and use of available technologies. 360 Potential adverse environmental effects from ocean biomass storage could include physical impacts to the ocean seabed and sediments from the landing of materials with high mass. 361 Oxygen depletion, acidification, and possible increases in H2S, CH4, N2O and nutrients arising from decomposition of the organic matter could result in biological and chemical impacts to marine ecosystems. 362 Certain impacts might be minimized through deliberate placement of materials near river deltas, areas of high sedimentation which are better adapted to biomass input, and where rivers naturally assist in deep ocean deposition of organic matter. 363 Impacts could depend upon the type and permeability of biomass packaging used. 364 Where performed in shallower waters of about 1000-1500m, impacts on fisheries could be greater. 365 Further, examination of impacts should include consideration of energy consumption required for transport, burying, and processing. 366 As a whole, potential impacts of ocean biomass storage are poorly understood due to limited understanding of deep sea ecosystems. 367 Cf. Bodle et al (2012) 105, 133.

Williamson et al (2012) 67-68.

Umweltbundesamt (2011) 29.

Strand (2009).

Strand (2009).

Strand (2009) 1004; Williamson et al (2012) 67.

Williamson et al (2012) 67; Royal Society (2009) 11.

Strand (2009) 1005.

Williamson et al (2012) 67.

Williamson et al (2012) 68.

Royal Society (2009) 11.

Williamson et al (2012) 68.

Options and Proposals for the International Governance of Geoengineering Ocean sequestration of biomass is not directly addressed under current international law and does not appear to be explicitly prohibited under the LC, LP, or OSPAR Convention. The same goes for UNCLOS, although would be subject to provisions concerning protection of the marine environment. Application of provisions under these treaties, like ocean liming, would depend first, largely upon whether the activity is, on the whole, considered either detrimental or beneficial to the marine environment, and thus in line with treaty objectives. Second, application hinges upon whether the activity qualifies as “dumping” or whether the activity can be sufficiently differentiated. Other treaties may be implicated where transboundary impacts or harm to biodiversity, or in specially protected areas.

The LC and LP do not specifically address crop wastes and biomass, but ocean dumping of these materials would constitute “disposal of wastes or other matter from vessels, aircraft, platforms or other man-made structures at sea.” (LC Article 3(1), LP Article 4(1)). However, while considered dumping, biomass materials would not likely be subject to restriction under the LC or LP. Biomass would be permitted for dumping under LP Annex 1 as “organic material of natural origin.” 368 Even where processed, biomass materials would presumably be exempted as prohibited industrial waste under LC Annex I as “uncontaminated organic material of natural origin.” 369 Thus only a general permit would be required under the LC, and ocean dumping would be permissible under the LP following procedural assessment. However, under the “placement exemption” ocean biomass dumping might not even qualify as “dumping” under the LC/LP because the purpose – that is, to sequester carbon dioxide - could be regarded as being for “other than the mere disposal” and thus subject to exemption. (LC Article 3(1)(b)(2), LP Article1(4.2)).

Ocean biomass storage would be subject to States’ duties under UNCLOS, covering protection of the marine of environment (Article 192); prevention, reduction, and control of marine environment pollution, including dumping (Article1, 194, 210); States’ rights, jurisdiction and duties; and marine scientific research (see also section on ocean liming). UNCLOS requires that, in taking measures to prevent, reduce and control marine pollution, States shall not transfer, indirectly or directly, damage or hazards from one area to another or transform one type of pollution into another (Article 195). It has been suggested that certain geoengineering methods may involve a transfer of one form of pollution into another – here, arguably, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations into the form of sequestered biomass materials. 370 As with ocean liming, whether ocean storage of biomass meets the definition of pollution under UNCLOS is open to interpretation as to whether the activity would have a “deleterious effect.” Accordingly, provisions restricting dumping would hinge on this definition as well as on UNCLOS’ “placement exemption.” Depending on the interpretation of “dumping”, ocean biomass storage could be impermissible under the OSPAR Convention’s general prohibitions on marine dumping, although dumping of crop wastes or other biomass materials is not expressly covered.

Although most dumping would likely take place in deeper waters on the high seas, biomass storage in near-coastal waters where transboundary impacts would be of greater likelihood, would require assessment of impacts under the Espoo Convention. As discussed for ocean Williamson et al (2012) 68.

Williamson et al (2012) 68.

Verlaan (2009).

Options and Proposals for the International Governance of Geoengineering liming, certain locations for ocean biomass storage could fall under the Antarctic Treaty System, MARPOL, or the Heritage Convention.

In theory, production of biomass materials to be used specifically for geoengineering purposes could fall within the scope of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), where the production activities threatened the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources (Article 5.2, 6.1, 7). Alternatively, if produced crops were genetically engineered, perhaps so as to absorb greater amounts of carbon dioxide, transboundary transport of materials could fall under the scope of the CBD’s Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Generally, however, international law does not prohibit the production of biomass materials (see also section 4.1.11).

5.1.10 Biomass and biochar

There are several CDR geoengineering techniques involving biomass. One of them involves the biological capture of CO2 in vegetation and the subsequent deliberate sequestration of the biomass containing the captured CO2. The storage is intended to prevent the release of CO2 into the atmosphere during natural processes of decomposition of dead vegetation. 371 In contrast to CDR techniques involving biological capture through ecosystem management, capture and storage may be separated in time and space. 372 One method for storing the CO2 captured in biomass is converting the biomass to so-called biochar, which is then applied to soil, where it would gradually decompose over a long period of time. 373 From a legal perspective, apart from the cross-cutting general rules analysed above, international law does not prohibit the production of biomass, of biochar, or the application of biochar on soil as such. However, biomass and biochar techniques would need to be applied on a very large scale in order to be effective. 374 In order to produce and apply the necessary amount of biomass and biochar, these techniques could entail considerable large-scale land use changes which might be subject to rules of international law. In addition, there is a lack of knowledge and research on the environmental impacts of applying biochar on soil. 375 There does not seem to be pertinent international law on land use or land use change relevant for biomass and biochar. For instance, the obligations of the CCD are too general in nature to provide relevant guidance regarding biomass and biochar. On the non-binding side, the FAO draft voluntary guidelines on land tenure of March 2012, scheduled for approval by the Committee on World Food Security in May 2012, 376 do not provide guidance for the questions raised here.

UBA (2011) 22.

Williamson (2012) 9.

On the process see UBA (2011) 22; Williamson et al (2012) 66.

Williamson et al (2012) 65.

UBA (2011) 22; Williamson et al (2012) 13, 66-67.

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