Ocean Fertilization under the LC/LP
The "Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972", (London Convention), in force since 1975, was one of the first global conventions to protect the marine environment from human activities. Its objective is to promote the effective control of all sources of marine pollution and to take all practicable steps to prevent pollution of the sea by dumping of wastes and other matter. In 1996, the Contracting Parties adopted a Protocol to the London Convention (London Protocol) to further modernize the Convention and, eventually, replace it. The London Protocol came into force in March 2006. Currently 87 States are party to the Convention and 44 States are party to the Protocol.
This page provides a brief overview of the steps taken by the Contracting Parties to the London Convention and London Protocol to address ocean fertilization since 1999, with links to the relevant meeting documents. Hyperlinks to each year provide a list of the relevant meeting documents from that year. Complete meeting documents are available to registered users on IMO Docs.
Although ocean fertilization has been a topic of research in the scientific community since at least the late 1980s, Greenpeace first brought the issue to the attention of the Scientific Group of the London Convention in May 1999, at their meeting at IMO Headquarters in London, UK. In their informational paper, Greenpeace International raised the issue of disposal of carbon dioxide in seawater by direct disposal or by ocean fertilization. The meeting report referred to the informational paper in general terms, but did not mention ocean fertilization as a proposed technology for carbon dioxide sequestration in the ocean. The report concluded that: "[w]ithin the context of the London Convention 1972, fossil fuel derived CO2 is industrial waste and, as a result, the dumping of such CO2 from ships or platforms at sea or disposal into the sea floor was illegal. As such, the issue required urgent attention by the Consultative Meeting" (see LC/SG 22/13, para. 11.12).
At their meeting at IMO Headquarters in October 1999, the governing bodies considered the topic of ocean disposal and sequestration of CO2, as raised by the Scientific Group, but did not achieve "consensus on whether or not ocean disposal of CO2 from fossil fuelled power production would be considered an industrial waste" (see LC 21/13 para 5.26). Nevertheless, the governing bodies concluded that the Scientific Group "should continue to keep a watching brief on the relevant research that is being done in this field".
In early 2007, Planktos Corporation announced that it was planning to carry out iron fertilization experiments offshore of the Galapagos Islands in June of that year. The United States, Greenpeace and IUCN submitted papers to the 2007 meeting of the Scientific Groups of the London Convention and London Protocol in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, which specifically addressed Planktos's proposal, and examined the issue of ocean fertilization more generally. The outcome of the meeting was the public release of a "Statement of Concern" regarding the fertilization of the ocean waters with micro-nutrients such as iron to sequester CO2, and a request that the governing bodies consider the issue at their November 2007 meeting with a view to ensuring adequate regulation of such ocean fertilization operations.
At the joint meeting of the Contracting Parties to the London Convention and London Protocol in November 2007 in London, UK, the Parties endorsed the “Statement of Concern” released by the Scientific Groups in June 2007. They further agreed that the scope of work of the London Convention and London Protocol included ocean fertilization, as well as iron fertilization, and agreed that the London Convention and London Protocol were competent to address this issue in view of their general objective to protect and preserve the marine environment from all sources of pollution. Recognizing that it was within the purview of each State to consider proposals on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the London Convention and London Protocol, the governing bodies urged States to use the utmost caution when considering proposals for large-scale ocean fertilization operations, and took the view that, given the present state of knowledge regarding ocean fertilization, such large-scale operations were currently not justified (see LC 29/17, para. 4.23). Following intensive meetings of a working group, the governing bodies established a Legal Intersessional Correspondence Group (LICG) and charged them with developing a checklist of legal issues relevant to whether, and how, the legal framework of the London Convention and London Protocol applies to key scenarios on ocean fertilization. They also charged the LICG with working closely with the Scientific Groups so that the governing bodies could take an informed decision on the regulation of ocean fertilization at their 2008 meeting (see LC 29/17, para. 4.27 to 4.28, and Annex 6). Immediately following the meeting, the IMO delivered a press release which summarized the decisions taken on ocean fertilization up to that point under the London Convention and London Protocol.
Ocean fertilization remained a priority topic for the Contracting Parties to the London Convention and London Protocol throughout 2008, beginning with work done by the LICG on the matter. The LICG developed input for the May 2008 meeting of the Scientific Groups. Its analysis considered three ocean fertilization scenarios: 1. ocean fertilization with the addition of iron, a micro-nutrient; 2. ocean fertilization with the addition of nitrogen or phosphorus compounds; and 3. ocean fertilization by bringing water up from the depths using physical devices introduced into the ocean, (e.g., pipes). The LICG sought the input of the Scientific Groups on specific issues such as the nature and quantity of materials used for ocean fertilization and their potential impacts on the marine environment (see LC/SG 31/2/1). At their May 2008 meeting, the Scientific Groups received feedback from other organizations addressing ocean fertilization, including: the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) (see LC/SG 31/2/2); a joint submission by the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) and the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) (see LC/SG 31/Inf.2); as well as information from the North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES) and the Surface Ocean Lower Atmosphere Study (SOLAS) (see LC/SG 31/16, para. 2.19-2.22). The Scientific Groups also learned that ocean fertilization received mention in UN General Assembly Resolution 62/215 on “Oceans and the Law of the Sea” (2007), and was being discussed by the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBTTA) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (see LC/SG 31/16 para. 2.16-2.17). Much useful background information was provided on this topic by the UK (see LC/SG 31/INF.15) and Canada (see LC/SG 31/2). A Working Group on Ocean Fertilization was convened, and worked concurrently throughout most of the week. It discussed the three ocean fertilization scenarios described by the LICG and issues of scale, and developed a list of considerations for evaluating ocean fertilization proposals (see LC/SG 31/WP.3/Rev.1)
At the joint meeting of the Contracting Parties to the London Convention and London Protocol convened in London, UK in October 2008, the Parties reviewed the report of the LICG on ocean fertilization, as well as the report of the Scientific Groups. A representative from UNEP provided useful information on recent international statements, agreements and recommendations on ocean fertilization (see LC 30/INF.4 and LC 30/INF.4/Add.1). The UNEP representative also reported the results of the 9th meeting that 2008 Meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the CBD in 2008 in which the COP "request[ed] Parties and urg[ed] other Governments, in accordance with the precautionary approach, to ensure that ocean fertilization activities do not take place until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities, including assessing associated risks, and a global, transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanism is in place for these activities; with the exception of small-scale scientific research studies within coastal waters" (see LC 30/16 para. 4.6). An Ocean Fertilization Working Group was convened, met, shared views in plenary, and was reconvened to draft a resolution on ocean fertilization (see LC30/WP.6). After intensive debate in plenary, the governing bodies adopted Resolution LC-LP.1 (2008) on the regulation of ocean fertilization, agreeing that ocean fertilization activities, other than legitimate scientific research, should not be allowed; scientific research proposals should be assessed on a case-by-case basis using an assessment framework to be developed by the Scientific Groups; and until specific guidance is available, Parties should be urged to use utmost caution and the best available guidance to evaluate scientific research proposals to ensure protection of the marine environment consistent with the Convention and Protocol. In addition, the Contracting Parties agreed to further consider a potential legally binding resolution or an amendment to the London Protocol at its next session in 2009; identified the need for preparatory work in the intersessional period both on technical/scientific issues, as well as on legal/administrative issues related to ocean fertilization; and requested the Scientific Groups to prepare a document, for the information of all Contracting Parties, summarizing the current state of knowledge on ocean fertilization, relevant to assessing impacts on the marine environment, taking into account the work done on this issue in other fora. Following the meeting, the IMO issued a press release.
In 2009, work on ocean fertilization began with the 1st Meeting of the LP Intersessional Legal and Related Issues Working Group on Ocean Fertilization held at IMO Headquarters, in London, UK from 11 to 13 February. Two groups met concurrently, one to discuss legal options to clarify, interpret, or amend the London Convention and London Protocol for the purpose of regulating ocean fertilization (8 options were developed); and the other to develop an assessment framework for ocean fertilization research and prepare a document summarizing the current state of knowledge on ocean fertilization for the purpose of assessing impacts on the marine environment (see LP/CO2 2/5).
The Scientific Groups met in Rome, Italy in May 2009 and continued work on the draft assessment framework for scientific research involving ocean fertilization. Australia and New Zealand provided a discussion paper on the development of "Action Levels" for ocean fertilization experiments, and Greenpeace International suggested a set of seven principles for legitimate scientific research on ocean fertilization. The meeting considered an interim report on "Ocean Fertilization Science Overviews" which included other efforts by the UNEP-CBD Secretariat and by UNESCO-IOC summarizing the current state of knowledge on ocean fertilization (see LC 31/4). The Scientific Groups also learned about the outcomes of the LOHAFEX ocean iron fertilization experiment, a joint undertaking by the German Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research and the Indian National Oceanographic Institute.
The Contracting Parties to the London Convention and London Protocol met jointly in Novermber 2009 in London, UK. They were informed of the work of the Scientific Groups on a draft “Assessment Framework for Scientific Research Involving Ocean Fertilization” (Assessment Framework) and agreed to establish a mechanism for sharing the results of the assessments of ocean fertilization research projects for possible use in future assessment activities, requesting the Secretariat to be responsible for its organization. They further encouraged those Contracting Parties which had approved scientific research activities involving ocean fertilization to include the results of such assessments in their annual reports, as appropriate. The meeting also considered work done by a Correspondence Group collating "Ocean Fertilization Science Overviews", in particular the draft version of the "Scientific Synthesis of the Impacts of Ocean Fertilization on Marine Biodiversity" by the Secretariat of the CBD, and received a draft version of the UNESCO/IOC document, "Ocean Fertilization. A Scientific Summary for Policy Makers". The Contracting Parties agreed that the correspondence group should continue its work. The meeting reviewed the work of the London Protocol Intersessional Legal and Related Issues Working Group on Ocean Fertilization related to the development of options to clarify, interpret, or amend the London Convention and London Protocol for the purpose of regulation of ocean fertilization; considered a paper by Australia and New Zealand arguing for unequivocal legal certainty for the regulation of ocean fertilization experiments through the London Convention and London Protocol; and heard a statement from Vanuatu that ocean fertilization could modify marine ecosystems in uncontrollable ways by inducing changes in the food chain in localized marine biological habitats and would lead to further loss of marine biodiversity (included as Annex 4 to the Report of the Meeting of the Contracting Parties, LC 31/15). The meeting established a working group on ocean fertilization to further explore the questions raised in the report of the Scientific Groups and to consider the options from the London Protocol Intersessional Working Group Report. The meeting agreed that the Scientific Groups should continue work on the draft Assessment Framework, and that all eight decision options identified by the London Protocol Intersessional Working Group remained open for discussion. The eight options were: 1. Statement of concern; 2. Simple resolution; 3. Simple resolution intending to build upon resolution LC-LP.1 (2008); 4. Interpretative resolution; 5. An amendment to Annex 1 to the London Protocol; 6. Amendments to Annex 1 and the definition of dumping; 7. Amendments to the definition of dumping and exclusions for dumping; and 8. A new, stand-alone article in the Protocol on ocean fertilization (see LP/CO2 2/5, para. 3.5) . The meeting also considered whether the scope for regulation should be widened to cover emerging “marine geo-engineering” and agreed to continue focusing on ocean fertilization activities, but regarded an exploration of marine geo-engineering as desirable in the future. The Contracting Parties agreed to establish an Intersessional Working Group on Ocean Fertilization to continue their work on examining the implications of the legally binding options to enable informed consideration and discussion of this issue by the governing bodies in 2010.
The LP Intersessional Working Group on Ocean Fertilization continued its work at a meeting at IMO Headquarters in London, UK from 1 to 5 March 2010. The Working Group focused on five of the legally binding options to regulate ocean fertilization under the London Convention and London Protocol, as well as an additional proposal by Australia and New Zealand.
The 2010 meeting of the Scientific Groups was cancelled due to disruptions to air travel following the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, and was replaced by an extraordinary session directly preceding meeting of the Contracting Parties that year. The Scientific Groups considered a paper by Greenpeace International on toxic diatom blooms following iron enrichment, and a science advisory report on ocean fertilization and the draft Assessment Framework by Canada. The Scientific Groups further reviewed the draft Assessment Framework, finalized it, and invited the governing bodies to adopt it the following week. They also reviewed progress on the development of science overviews regarding ocean fertilization, and agreed that the Correspondence Group should continue its work.
The Contracting Parties to the London Convention and London Protocol met jointly in October 2010 in London, UK. The main outcome of the meeting with respect to ocean fertilization was the adoption of Resolution LC-LP.2(2010), regarding an "Assessment Framework for Scientific Research Involving Ocean Fertilization" (Assessment Framework) for use in determining whether a proposed ocean fertilization activity constitutes legitimate scientific research that is not contrary to the aims of the London Protocol or the London Convention. The Contracting Parties agreed that the Working Group on Ocean Fertilization should continue its intersessional work on options for establishing a global, transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanism for ocean fertilization activities and other activities that fall within the scope of London Convention and London Protocol and have the potential to cause harm to the marine environment. This included an additional option presented by Canada. The meeting received an informational update from the Chair of the Scientific Groups on a broad array of marine geoengineering proposals as well as an update on the Asilomar Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies. The Meetings also received a law review paper entitled "Geo-engineering, the Law of the Sea and Climate Change, forwarded by the IUCN.
The Scientific Groups met in Tallinn, Estonia from 11 to 15 April 2011 and reviewed the work of the Ocean Fertilization Correspondence Group regarding their analysis of science overviews to support the implementation of the Assessment Framework. The group identified several useful documents describing the potential impacts of ocean fertilization, including a report entitled "Ocean Fertilization: A scientific summary for policy makers" commissioned by UNESCO-IOC. However, they determined that although the identified papers were useful background documents, they did not provided any guidance on how to apply the scientific information in the context of the Assessment Framework. The Scientific Groups also received information form the United States in a report by the United States Government Accountability Office reviewing federal efforts relevant to geo-engineering research.
The LP Intersessional Working Group on Ocean Fertilization continued its work at a meeting in Montréal, Canada from 31 May to 3 June 2011. The Working Group reviewed additional proposals for providing a global, transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanism for ocean fertilization activities and other activities that fall within the scope of the London Convention and London Protocol and have the potential to cause harm to the marine environment. The United States submitted a proposal to continue the work of Resolution LC-LP.2(2010), and Canada submitted Option 10 B, variations on the option submitted to LC 32. The Working Group also considered a report of the Correspondence Group on Ocean Fertilization assessing the submitted proposals.
At a joint meeting of the Contracting Parties to the London Convention and London Protocol convened in London, UK, in November 2011, the Parties reviewed the intersessional work on ocean fertilization, including the report of the Intersessional Working Group on Ocean Fertilization, as well as several reports of the Correspondence Group on Ocean Fertilization. The Correspondence Group provided a detailed analysis of: 1. a draft amendment to the London Protocol to permit ocean fertilization as placement using a single article and annex; 2. a draft amendment to the London Protocol to permit ocean fertilization as placement using multiple annexes; 3. implementation and gathering experience with the Assessment Framework adopted in Resolution LC-LP.2(2010); and 4. further development of an interpretative resolution. The Correspondence Group also raised the issue of how the options under discussion might affect the scope of the London Protocol with respect to placement, and the Republic of Korea provided a framework for analyzing questions of scope. The meeting did not achieve any final resolution of this issue and agreed that further work should be undertaken intersessionally. A working group met during the meeting to attempt to clarify what types of "other activities" fall within the scope of the London Convention and London Protocol and should be addressed by the options under discussion for ocean fertilization. The meeting adopted the report of the Scientific Groups. Finally, considering the outstanding need for science overviews on ocean fertilization, the Parties instructed the Scientific Groups "to investigate the feasibility of developing a (web-based) repository of references relating to the application of the Ocean Fertilization Assessment Framework that would be accessible to LC-LP Parties, in cooperation with the CBD, UNESCO-IOC and other forums" (see LC 33/15, paragraphs 4.25 to 4.28).
The Scientific Groups met in Jeju, Republic of Korea from 21 to 25 May 2012. A Working Group on Marine Geo-engineering was convened to make recommendations for the development of a web-based repository of references relating to the application of the Assessment Framework for Scientific Research Involving Ocean Fertilization and to develop terms of reference, as appropriate. The Working Group was also tasked to review the feasibility, utility and content of a generic placement assessment, including a revised version submitted by the UK, designed for Contracting Parties to evaluate proposed placement activities. There was no consensus within the Scientific Groups as to the feasibility, utility and content of a generic placement assessment framework or to the benefit of such an approach. However, the groups decided to forward the revised generic placement assessment framework, as set out in annex 2 of LC/SG 35/15, to the LP Intersessional Working Group on Ocean Fertilization and the governing bodies. The UK provided a useful informational paper on the effects of natural iron fertilization on deep-sea ecology.
The LP Intersessional Working Group on Ocean Fertilization continued its work at a meeting in Bonn, Germany from 3 to 6 July 2012. The meeting reviewed work done by the Scientific Groups on a generic placement assessment framework. Australia provided text for a proposed amendment to the London Protocol to regulate the placement of matter for marine geo-engineering. The Australian proposal provided text for a proposed new article to regulate marine geo-engineering activities as well as text for two new annexes to the London Protocol, one to list the marine geo-engineering activities to be regulated, and another consisting of a Generic Assessment Framework for marine geo-engineering activities. Australia also provided a discussion paper for its proposal.
The Contracting Parties to the London Convention and London Protocol met jointly in from 29 October to 2 November 2012 in London, UK. The delegation of Canada informed the Meetings of a large-scale ocean fertilization incident off Canada's west coast in international waters which occurred in July 2012 (see LC 34/15, annex 3). In response, the governing bodies tasked an Ocean Fertilization Working Group with development of a statement of concern on behalf of the LC/LP Parties (see LC 34 WP.4, annex 5). The governing bodies reviewed the work done by the 4th Intersessional Working Group on Ocean Fertilization (see LC 34/4), as well as submissions by the UK on a procedure and process for considering new marine geoengineering activities (see LC 34/4/1), and from Australia and Republic of Korea providing discussion of a proposed amendment to the London Protocol (see LC 34/4/2), suggested text for the amendment (see LC 34/4/3, annex) and suggested text for a Generic Placement Assessment Framework for Marine Geo-engineering Activities (see LC 34/4/4, annex). The governing bodies tasked the Ocean Fertilization Working Group to further develop options for providing a global, transparent and effective control and regulatory mechanism for ocean fertilization activities and other activities that fall within the scope of the London Convention and Protocol and have the potential to cause harm to the marine environment (see LC 34/15, para. 4.3). The Working Group discussed four options: Option 1 (document LC 34/4/3, annex): a proposal by Australia and Korea to regulate marine geo-engineering activities; Option 2 (document LC 34/4 annex 3): a proposal by the United States and Japan to regulate ocean fertilization only; Option 3 (document LC 34/4, annex 4): a proposal by ACOPS to amend annex 1 to the London Protocol; and Option 4 (document LC 34/4, annex 4): a proposal by the United States on the implementation and gathering experience with the ocean fertilization assessment framework under resolution Resolution LC-LP.2(2010). The Working Group provided revisions to Option 1 (see LC 34/15, Annex 4); developed two versions of Option 2 (see LC 34/15, Annex 5); developed text to add to Annex 1 of the London Protocol for Option 3 ("9. material used for ocean fertilization activities that are legitimate scientific research; and"; see LC 34/15, para. 4.19.3 ); and noted that Option 4 reflected the status quo so did not discuss it further (see LC 34 WP.4). Based on the report of the Working Group and discussion in plenary, the governing bodies established an intersessional correspondence group to further develop potential text for guidance on a "Procedure" for the listing of new activities in the proposed new Annex 4 - "Regulated Marine Geoengineering Activities" (see LC 34/4/1, annex). The governing bodies also approved the "Statement of concern regarding the iron fertilization in ocean waters west of Canada" (see LC 34/15, annex 7), and instructed the Secretariat to release the "Statement" in the media.
In considering the work of the Scientific Groups, the governing bodies accepted an offer from the United States to lead the development of a web-based repository of references relating to the application of the Assessment Framework that would be accessible to LC-LP Parties (see LC 34/15). This website is the prototype.
In April 2013, Australia, Nigeria and the Republic of Korea submitted a proposal to amend the London Protocol to regulate placement of matter for ocean fertilization and other marine geo-engineering activities.
The Scientific Groups met in Buenos Aires, Argentina from 27 to 31 May 2013. The Chair of the Correspondence Group reported on progress made towards developing a web-based repository of references relating to the application of the Assessment Framework. A working group was convened to provide feedback to the Correspondence Group and proposed that the team continue its work with a view to having a website ready to share with the governing bodies at their next joint session in October 2013. The Scientific Groups endorsed this proposal and accepted an offer from the United States to re-establish the Correspondence Group (see LC/SG 36/16, para. 3.8). The United Kingdom provided a useful review of the effectiveness, environmental impacts and emerging governance of ocean fertilization, and the United States shared state of the science fact sheet on climate engineering prepared by its National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.