Geo-Engineering: Commercial fertilization of oceans finally banned

First-ever legally binding regulations adopted – research to continue unaffected

fishes in the seaClick to enlarge
Fertilising oceans so that algae can sequester more CO2 can harm the ecosystem.
Source: franck MAZEAS /

Commercial ocean fertilization activities are now subject to an international ban, although certain research activities will be permitted. This was the decision taken by the Parties to the London Protocol on 18 October 2013 and which has now been publicised. The Conferences to the Party must now ensure prior to any ocean fertilization and other geo-engineering activities that research actually takes place and that negative impact on the environment can be ruled out. "The international agreement is a milestone in the monitoring of geo-engineering and is the first-ever effective regulation of experiments to control climate change through technology. The unanimous adoption of the regulation emphasises their political significance," said Vice-President Thomas Holzmann of the Federal Environment Agency (UBA), which played an active part in the negotiations. The 43 Contracting Parties also agreed to subject other marine geo-engineering measures besides ocean fertilization to state control. However, all of the new regulations can only enter into force when two-thirds of the Contracting Parties have ratified them.

The lengthy international negotiations were triggered by a Planktos corporation proposal submitted in 2007 to carry out commercial fertilization activities off the Galapagos Islands to curb climate change, even though the effectiveness of such interventions has not been proven. The Contracting Parties to the London Protocol had agreed until 2010 upon non-binding control mechanisms. Then, in 2012, another highly controversial fertilization project was carried out off the west coast of Canada. However, previous agreements were completely ignored, thus constituting a major reason for the Contracting Parties to agree on binding regulations. UBA's Vice-President Thomas Holzmann remarked, "The international ban on commercial climate and geoengineering activities and the effective monitoring of research projects are exactly what is needed. We simply know too little about their effects on man and the environment. For the sake of precaution we should only allow experiments with our planet to be carried out under strict control, for research purposes and in small steps. The new regulations of the London Protocol take account of this and thus serve as a role model for international environmental law in general." One significant amendment to the regulations is that ocean fertilization as well as other marine geoengineering measures will become easier to monitor in future. The regulations also establish criteria which must be applied when reviewing the environmental impact of activities. Lastly, the first-ever binding criteria were defined by which to distinguish research from commercial activities. "These criteria can also help to reduce the negative effects of dubious scientific activity on the environment in other areas of resource protection – for example, whale catching by Japan for supposedly scientific purposes," said Thomas Holzmann.


The term geoengineering refers to schemes to curb global warming on a commercial scale. One of the much discussed methods is ocean fertilization. The idea is to trigger algal bloom across large areas by introducing large amounts of iron compounds to the ocean. The CO2 captured in the algae is transported to the ocean floor once they die off. The purpose is to sequester CO2 at great ocean depths, remove it from the atmosphere and thus remove it from the climate system. However, there is widespread doubt at present as to the effectiveness of ocean fertilization.

See Report of the 35th Meeting of the Parties to the London Protocol Section 4 to read about the negotiations, Annex 4 for the new regulations.

Printer-friendly version
 geoengineering  Climate Engineering  ocean fertilization  iron oxide  ferric oxide