Ocean iron fertilization: Why further research is needed
Despite large uncertainties in the fertilization efficiency, natural iron fertilization studies and some of the purposeful iron enrichment studies have demonstrated that Southern Ocean iron fertilization can lead to a significant export of carbon from the sea surface to the ocean interior. From an economic perspective the potential of ocean iron fertilization (OIF) is far from negligible in relation to other abatement options. Comparing the range of cost estimates to the range of estimates for forestation projects they are in the same order of magnitude, but OIF could provide more carbon credits even if high discount rates are used to account for potential leakage and non-permanence. However, the uncertainty about undesired adverse effects of purposeful iron fertilization on marine ecosystems and biogeochemistry has led to attempts to ban commercial and, to some extent, scientific experiments aimed at a better understanding of the processes involved, effectively precluding further consideration of this mitigation option. As regards the perspective of public international law, the pertinent agreements dealing with the protection of the marine environment indicate that OIF is to be considered as lawful if and to the extent to which it represents legitimate scientific research. In this respect, the precautionary principle can be used to balance the risks arising out of scientific OIF activities for the marine environment with the potential advantages relevant to the objectives of the climate change regime. As scientific OIF experiments involve only comparatively small negative impacts within a limited marine area, further scientific research must be permitted to explore the carbon sequestration potential of OIF in order to either reject this concept or integrate it into the flexible mechanisms contained in the Kyoto Protocol.
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