Permitting research projects on marine geoengineering

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

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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 under international law once two thirds of the signatory states have ratified it. Germany has already transposed this amendment into German law (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). The Act applies to all marine waters (high seas) with the exception of the territorial sea under German sovereignty and the territorial seas under the sovereignty of other states (Article 2 para. 1 HSEG). This means that scientific projects (Article 5a para. 2 HSEG) that are to be carried out within the framework of marine geoengineering (see Annex HSEG) in the German Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and in the EEZs of other states and the ⁠High Seas⁠ require approval by UBA.


Information on the approval procedure for applicants

An application for approval of a marine geoengineering project must be submitted in written form, on paper or electronically (via hseg(at), to the UBA.

According to the Regulation on the Restriction of Marine Geo-engineering (§ 3 para. 2 GeoEnBeschrV), the reason for the project, the planned work phases (including the process of introducing substances or mesocosms, for example), and the timeline of the project must be described in detail in the application documents. In addition, the description of the characteristics of the substances or objects to be introduced and the expected effects are fundamental. For more information, see GeoEnBeschrV §3.

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 (see § 2 GeoEnBeschrV).

Please note: For the purpose of observation (monitoring) of the involved environment at the location of the measure, continuous measurement campaigns are to be planned in the project and has to be taken into account in the financing plan. Due to the diverse participation at national and international level, the consultation procedure will take around six months.

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

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

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

Further information on the legal basis can be found under Marine Protection Law.