Biggest oil nations killed UN resolution to investigate geoengineering

21 Mar 2019

Image: © ugiss/

Fearing damage to their economies, the biggest oil nations in the world blocked plans that would have investigated their geoengineering plans.

The UN’s attempts to get a hold of out-of-control climate change have taken many forms, but the increasing possibilities of geoengineering technologies – in particular carbon capture – remain somewhat controversial.

Now, according to Motherboard, a recent UN resolution put forward by Switzerland to “prepare an assessment of the status of geoengineering technologies” was shut down after member nations failed to come to a consensus on how the governmental body would assess it.

The resolution was officially declared withdrawn on 14 March, driven by the US, Saudi Arabia and Brazil, which are some of the largest producers and consumers of fossil fuels in the world. Those involved in the UN meetings about the resolution said the biggest sticking point was any deep investigation of CO2 removal technologies, including attempts to reflect sunlight back into space.

Speaking with Motherboard, an anonymous source from within the meeting said: “I think there was clear evidence of the fossil link, in that Saudi Arabia at least sees carbon removal forms of geoengineering as a means of sustaining fossil fuel use, while the US argued that carbon removal is an alternative to emissions reduction.”

In particular, the US objected to language in the resolution that said “geoengineering techniques should not be treated as a substitute for mitigation or emissions cuts” and that any investigation would throttle the development of CO2 removal technologies.

Kicking the can down the road

Academics in the US have been quite critical of the country’s decision to prevent the resolution from passing, with climate scientist Kate Ricke of the University of California San Diego saying it was a natural decision for a government sceptical of climate change in the first place.

“If a government’s position is that human-caused climate change is not a problem, it doesn’t make sense to advocate for research on extreme approaches to address the risks posed by human-caused climate change,” she said.

Among the most recent efforts to capture CO2 from Earth’s atmosphere to reverse the damage already caused include a team from RMIT University in Australia, which claimed it had found a way to efficiently convert CO2 from a gas into solid particles of carbon. Essentially, this means that CO2 in our atmosphere can be turned back into coal and reburied underground.

As for the failed resolution, the US has successfully punted it to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, where it will be investigated for its next major climate report in two years’ time.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic