The concept of “Geoengineering” which would have been ignored as fantasy or science fiction not very long ago, has suddenly emerged in recent years as a viable, practical proposition. Weird as well as sensible ideas are being mooted by scientists and non-scientists alike for using geoengineering as a tool particularly for arresting and reversing the present trend of global warming. Taking the cue from what Mt Pinatubo did to bring down the earth’s temperature, proposals are being made to introduce similar aerosols into the atmosphere so as to reduce the incoming solar radiation. There is another category of suggestions that consider the transfer of atmospheric CO2 to reservoirs so as to increase the outgoing solar radiation from the earth-atmosphere system.

Geoengineering raises many fundamental questions which are not entirely scientific or technological but border upon philosophical, ethical, political, economic and legal issues. Yes, the world is not new to artificial rainmaking and weather modification experiments which are being carried out in many countries since several decades. However, artificial rainmaking experiments have been generally confined to small rain scarcity areas, reservoirs, or river catchments, while other types of weather modification experiments like fog dispersal have been attempted in an even more limited way such as in weather-based warfare. Past efforts in taming hurricanes like the U. S. Project Stormfury have not yielded much success and they had eventually to be given up. However, geoengineering is going to be a completely different kind of experimental activity in that it will encompass the entire planet earth, its effects would be longlasting, and its consequences would have to be borne by the whole of humanity.

The time has therefore come to draft an international Law of the Atmosphere on the lines of the Law of the Sea which is already in existence and operation. Such a law will ensure that no single country or person or group of persons is allowed to rule the earth’s atmosphere and indirectly rule over the world’s population, say under the pretext of combating climate change.

The Law of the Sea which came into force in 1994 was instrumental in redefining and replacing several existing written and unwritten conventions with regard to the oceans and seas of the world. The Law laid down specific agreed limits on the territorial waters, the exclusive economic zones and the continental shelf of countries having a coastline. The Law of the Sea recognizes the freedom of navigation and the right of innocent passage. The Law recognizes the importance of the conservation and optimum utilization of the living and non-living resources of the ocean and protecting the marine environment from pollution. The Law allows scientific research to be carried out over the oceans, but it has to strike a balance with the interests of the coastal countries. The Law has established a mechanism for the settlement of disputes between countries arising out of the application of the Law.

The Law of the Sea accepts that the deep seabed is a common heritage of mankind and it has established a special Seabed Authority for working out the arrangements for its exploitation. The Law also provides for the special needs of landlocked and geographically disadvantaged nations to be met by suitable arrangements.

We need to have a similar internationally accepted Law of the Atmosphere which will take care of atmospheric issues which in fact are not very different from those pertaining to the Sea. The earth’s atmosphere is mankind’s common resource and it cannot be allowed to be exploited, modified, vitiated or experimented upon at the will of a few people or countries. There are geographically advantaged or disadvantaged countries as regards the atmosphere too. For example, there are countries that are deprived of sunlight for a large part of the year, or countries which are basically deserts and get little rainfall. There are specific resources of the atmosphere which are vital for sustenance of life, such as oxygen for human beings and animals, and CO2 for plants and vegetation. There has to be a Law to bring the maintenance or manipulation of these resources under the regulation of an international authority.

Geoengineering is too serious a matter to be permitted without the creation of a comprehensive legal and regulatory framework for the earth’s atmosphere. It cannot be governed by the existing UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. We need an internationally accepted Law of the Atmosphere.

The text of the Law of the Sea is available on the web site of the United Nations at http://www.un.org/Depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/closindx.htm

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