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Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Proposal to fix Pacific with 'urea' dump

By Charles Clover,

Proposals to dump large quantities of nitrogen-rich chemical in the Pacific as a quick fix for climate change have emerged at a UN treaty meeting in London.

An Australian company is planning to dump 500 tons of urea into the sea between Philippines and Borneo
An Australian company is planning to dump 500 tons of urea into the sea between Philippines and Borneo

Governments meeting to discuss whether the oceans should be used for experiments aimed at "fixing" carbon from the atmosphere heard that an Australian company is planning to dump 500 tons of industrially-produced urea - a substance that naturally occurs in urine - into the sea between Philippines and Borneo.

The meeting of members of the London Convention, the UN treaty on dumping at sea, heard that Ocean Nourishment Corporation of Sydney was in discussion with the Philippines government to pump nitrogen-rich water into the sea to stimulate algal blooms.

The idea is to pump the urea into barren areas of the ocean on the edge of the continental shelf to stimulate the growth of plant plankton.

Phytoplankton absorb carbon dioxide from sea water. Fish eat them and when they die some fall to the bottom, potentially removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Ian Jones, chief executive of the Ocean Nourishment Corporation, has been quoted as saying: "We transform the land to provide food for people. This is like practising agriculture at sea."

His company intends to use its technology to claim carbon credits under the Kyoto climate treaty.

John Ridley, managing director of the Ocean Nourishment Corporation, said: "An environmental assessment whether required for this small scale of experiment or not, is being prepared as this is part of our company environmental practice.

"While ocean nourishment will stimulate algal growth it is not intended to cause algal blooms. In fact the intention is to control the nutrient concentrations at one tenth to one fifth of levels that would result in an algal boom.

"In terms of a moratorium on research and development into climate change solutions - I think this would be unwise.

"In terms of terminology "dumping" is not a term that describes our nutrient injection - in the same way that a farmer doesn't dump fertilizer on his crops. Dumping tends to imply a waste product whereas this form of nitrogen is a valuable commodity."

The proposed release of urea follows controversy over plans by Planktos, a San Francisco-based company to dump thousands of tons of iron in the Pacific off the Galapagos Islands in an experiment also designed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

A coalition of environmental groups are calling for the London Convention to call a moratorium on large "geo-engineering" projects until there has been an assessment of their environmental impacts.

David Santillo, Greenpeace representative on the London Convention, said: "This ill founded scheme is hitting the news because the Philippine bureau of fisheries is preparing to issue a permit. There would probably be an algal bloom but the vague assumption that carbon would be locked away forever is nonsense.

"Our view is that if the London Convention doesn't stop this, we wonder who will."

A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that geo-engineering solutions to climate change remain largely unproven and are potentially high risk.

"The UK Government's strategy is that the most sustainable, low risk and effective solution to climate change is to tackle the problem at its source through substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

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