Permitting research projects on marine geoengineering

The procedure in the HSEG approval process includes various participation processes. Click to enlarge
The procedure in the HSEG approval process includes various participation processes.
Source: German Environment Agency

Since July 2019, the German Environment Agency is the competent authority for permitting and monitoring scientific projects which involve intended discharges of matter into the oceans and are attributed to marine geoengineering. The legal basis is the German “Hohe-See-Einbringungsgesetz” (§ 8 para. 3 HSEG).


The overall objective of the German “Hohe-See-Einbringungsgesetz” (HSEG) to protect the marine environment regulating the dumping of waste and other matter in the ⁠High Seas⁠ since 1998. The international basis is the London Protocol, which has enshrined a general ban on discharges since 1996. Exceptions to this ban are only permitted for certain categories of waste and other matter.

In 2013, the Parties amended the London Protocol with regard marine geoengineering by consensus (Resolution LP.4(8)). The amendment was a response to large-scale fertilization experiments in various marine regions of the High Seas. The amendment includes an assessment framework and recommends independent international advice (See Resolution LP.4(8), Annex 5). The amendment to the London Protocol will only enter into force once ratifications by two thirds of the Parties has been completed. Germany has transposed this amendment into German law by ratification on 04.12.2018.

The new regulation in the HSEG allows the introduction of substances by research projects on marine geoengineering if the introduction serves to increase primary production (= marine fertilization). Other forms and techniques of marine geoengineering (MGE) in research projects, for example alkalinisation, and any commercial marine geoengineering projects are prohibited under the current regulation.

UBA is enforcement authority

The HSEG designates the German Environment Agency (UBA) as the competent authority in Germany (§ 8 Abs. 3 HSEG). At the same time, the UBA is entrusted with monitoring the authorized research projects. The implementation of any scientific projects on marine fertilization in the German Exclusive Economic Zone and the ⁠High Seas⁠ thus requires a permit by the UBA.

An application for a permit for such a project must be submitted in written form, on paper or electronically, to the UBA. In the documents the applicant should describe, amongst other things, the reason for the project, the overall project design and its timeline, and – in detail – the planned introduction of matter with the expected impacts.

When planning a project in the thematic area of marine geoengineering, UBA recommends submitting a preliminary enquiry at an early stage so that UBA can check the HSEG relevance in good time and provide information on the necessary steps, e.g. for public participation. Due to the diverse participation at national and international level, the consultation procedure will take around 6 months.

In German coastal waters, the Federal State water authorities are responsible for authorizing scientific MGE projects. The same requirements apply with regard to the preconditions for the permission of such projects as under the HSEG (§ 45 Abs. 2 WHG).

Note: The law applies, not the simplified pictorial representation or the text of this website.