U.N. Climate Boss Says Durban Talks Can Deliver

Nina Chestney PlanetArk 1 Sep 11;

A record rise in global greenhouse emissions and ever tighter economic constraints make it crucial for United Nations climate talks in South Africa in November to overcome years of deadlock and deliver a solution, the U.N.'s climate chief told Reuters.

Nearly two decades of U.N. climate change negotiations have so far failed to find a new binding approach to curbing the release of climate-warming gases.

The world's biggest emitters, the United States and China, have never formally signed up to mandatory emissions caps and the previous head of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) stepped down after 2009 talks collapsed.

"It is self-evident that (climate change) is a complex challenge but it is to governments' credit that they are not shying away from (it)," Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC executive secretary, said in an interview.

"If climate change were a simple problem, we would have solved it in 1992."

Hopes faded for a new global climate pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of 2012, after President Barack Obama and other leaders could not agree in Copenhagen in 2009 on a new deal for limiting global warming.

Leaders of 193 countries are set to meet for the next annual U.N. climate summit in November in Durban, where talks could stall again if rich and poor nations renew squabbling over how to share out emissions cuts and whether to extend the existing protocol.

Talks could also be over-shadowed by data showing that the world's carbon dioxide emissions hit their highest level ever in 2010, driven mainly by booming coal-reliant emerging economies like China.
At the same time, the threat of another global economic slowdown has tightened governments' purse-strings and diverted public attention.

Figueres said the difficulties could be a positive spur.

"Governments have a huge opportunity here to address some of that economic recovery while addressing climate change. It is win-win," she said

"What is very clear is that we need a dramatic shift in our economic structure and that needs to happen at the earliest possible point, because the more we continue along the current path the more we get into technology lock-in."


Figueres said governments were very much "on track" to deliver on the main commitments agreed at a Mexico summit last year, related to finance, technology and adaptation measures.

At the 2010 talks in Cancun, governments agreed to set up a Green Climate Fund to manage $100 billion a year by 2020 in aid to the poor nations most at risk of climate change.

Asked whether the U.N. would succeed in securing the full $100 billion -- which already fell far short of the hopes of developing nations -- Figueres said it would "definitely not be easy" but it could be achieved.
Durban should decide on financing for the short term, medium term covering 2013-2020, and then the longer term, she said.

While governments have struggled for a breakthrough, Figueres said a "visionary and enlightened" part of the private sector had already made strides toward a low-carbon economy and the whole world could follow that example.

"It is the responsibility of every single actor and human being. Everyone needs to accept their responsibility -- the private sector, civil society, NGOs, national governments and individuals -- and to contribute to the solution," she said.

As well as tackling the financing challenge, Durban will also focus on what will follow the Kyoto Protocol from 2013.

China and some developing nations want to extend the protocol into a second commitment period, while Japan, Russia and Canada are opposed. European Union states have been trying to find a middle road.

"An important group of countries has opened up a conversation about if the EU engages in a type of second commitment period, what would that be like?" Figueres said.

"I would say governments are in a creative phase and will explore what would be a middle ground which has to be acceptable to all countries."

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Best of our wild blogs: 1 Sep 11

Biodiversity of Singapore Symposium III – “The Next Generation”
from Otterman speaks and Biology Refugia

Oil-slicked Tanah Merah: Mating nudibranchs and more!
from wild shores of singapore

Activities around an Oil Palm
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Jobs: NParks is recruiting a senior conservation officer
from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

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Singapore incinerates seized reptile skins from Indonesia

TRAFFIC 31 Aug 11;

Singapore, 31st August 2011—Authorities in Singapore today announced they have destroyed more than 800 reptile skins seized last year.

In September 2010, Singapore’s Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) seized five packages containing 470 Reticulated Python Python reticulatus and 363 Water Monitor Lizard Varanus salvator skins sent from Indonesia.

According to accompanying documentation, the shipment was bound for China, France, Switzerland and the USA via a courier service and had falsely been declared as synthetic leather.

The skins were sent from Jakarta, although it is suspected they originated from Medan, North Sumatra.

Both reptiles species are listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and may be traded internationally under a permitting system, if in accordance with national laws.

This shipment, however, did not have the required permits and was therefore seized.

“The authorities in Singapore are to be commended for intercepting this illegal shipment and for destroying the contraband, which will ensure the skins cannot re-enter the global black market,” said Chris R. Shepherd, Deputy Regional Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

“TRAFFIC encourages the Indonesian CITES Management Authority to investigate the source of this illegal shipment and to take appropriate action.”

Illegal trade poses a serious threat to the conservation of several python and monitor lizard species and undermines efforts directed at their sustainable use.

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Malaysia major wildlife transit port, TRAFFIC warns

The Star 31 Aug 11;

NEW DELHI: Malaysia is, inadvertently, clawing its way into becoming a hub for international wildlife smuggling.

This follows the seizure in Hong Kong, of 794 pieces of ivory tusks, which had earlier arrived from a Malaysian port.

A 66-year-old suspect has been detained in connection with the seizure. However, his nationality and source of the country where the contraband arrived from, are being withheld to facilitate investigations.

Traffic, a global wildlife trade monitoring network, disclosed that Hong Kong Customs officials found the tusks, weighing 1.9 tonnes, concealed inside a shipping container on Tuesday.

"This latest Hong Kong seizure further underscores Malaysia's role as an intermediary country in the illicit flow of African ivory to Asia.

"It's time for Malaysia to get tough on international ivory smugglers, who are tarnishing the country's reputation," Tom Milliken, Traffic's Elephant and Rhino Programme Co-ordinator, said in a statement Wednesday.

The agency further added this was not the first time international traffickers had used Malaysia to ship out ivory to Hong Kong and later channel it to China to meet the lucrative demand.

In 2003, the island authorities discovered 275 tusks, weighing nearly two tonnes, illegally exported from Tanzania and transited via Malaysia.

In December 2009, 189 pieces of ivory, concealed inside a container labelled as 'white wood, were shipped from Nigeria to Malaysia, enroute to Hong Kong.

Last Friday, Tanzanian police seized 1,000 ivory tusks hidden in sacks of dried fish, in the Port of Zanzibar, on its way to Malaysia by sea.

A recent Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) reported "Malaysia has progressively gained prominence in successive ETIS analyses as a transit country for African ivory," according to the statement.

High-priced ivory, often used in making gun handles, piano keys, billiard balls and costly souvenirs, is a thriving million-dollar trade, especially in parts of Africa where poachers hunt elephants for tusks.

Experts estimate overall wildlife trade was worth a staggering US$20bil (RM60bil) annually second only to drug trafficking. - Bernama

Hong Kong seizes nearly 800 smuggled elephant tusks
AFP Yahoo News 31 Aug 11;

Hong Kong has seized nearly two tonnes of elephant ivory worth about $1.7 million hidden in a shipment from Malaysia and detained a local man over the haul, customs authorities said Wednesday.

Inspectors found 794 pieces of tusks, weighing 1,898 kilos (4,184 pounds), concealed behind stones in a container marked for factory use at the city's port on Monday, a spokeswoman for the customs department told AFP.

A 66-year-old Hong Kong man was arrested and was under investigation, she added, but declined to confirm whether the shipment was destined for China, a major market where ivory is ground up and used in traditional medicine.

If convicted, the man faces a fine and imprisonment of up to seven years under customs or wildlife protection laws.

Anti-trafficking wildlife groups lauded authorities for the haul, part of the illegal elephant ivory trade that has been rising globally since 2004, largely due to increasing Chinese demand.

"This looks like another huge consignment of ivory aimed at the Chinese market," Tom Milliken, a coordinator of wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, said in a statement.

"The authorities in Hong Kong are to be congratulated on this important seizure, but it is now vital to ensure that all leads are followed to track down those responsible along the entire smuggling chain."

International trade in ivory was banned in 1989 after the population of elephants dropped from the millions in the mid-20th century to some 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

But seizures have escalated dramatically in the last seven years, driven by Chinese consumption, which is exacerbating Africa's elephant poaching crisis, activists say.

In September last year Hong Kong customs seized 384 ivory tusks worth $1.4 million from two containers marked "dried anchovies" in a vessel traveling from Tanzania to the southern Chinese city.

Milliken meanwhile urged Malaysia to step up law enforcement against smuggling, saying the Southeast Asian nation was increasingly used as a transit country for African ivory.

"This latest Hong Kong seizure further underscores Malaysia's role as an intermediary country in the illicit flow of African ivory to Asia," he said.

"It's time for Malaysia to get tough on international ivory smugglers, who are tarnishing the country's reputation."

Malaysian wildlife authorities said last week they were "highly concerned" after police in Tanzania's Zanzibar archipelago seized more than 1,000 elephant tusks, which were being smuggled en route to Malaysia.

Malaysia identified as a major transit point for elephant tusk smugglers
Isabelle Lai The Star 3 Sep 11;

PETALING JAYA: More than 20 tonnes of illegal ivory have passed through at least two Malaysian ports since 2003, earning the country an unsavoury reputation as a transhipment hub for the multi-million ringgit trade and the figure involves only those seized.

Wildlife monitoring trade network Traffic regional director Dr William Schaedla said Malaysia had become a major hub for illegal ivory trade in the last few years.

This could have been caused by stricter enforcement measures in neighbouring countries, leading smugglers to venture through Malaysian ports, he said.

“Smugglers tend to move to an easier' place. If enforcement in other countries heats up, then they will find a soft spot elsewhere,” he said.

It was reported that 794 African ivory tusks were confiscated by Hong Kong authorities on Monday after they arrived by sea from Malaysia. The tusks, weighing 1.9 tonnes and estimated to be worth around HK$13mil (RM4.97mil), was concealed in a consignment declared as non-ferrous products for factory use.

The seizure came after last week's report that more than 1,000 elephant tusks were seized by Tanzanian authorities. The tusks were hidden in a strong-smelling container of anchovies destined for Malaysia.

The huge amount of ivory being shipped accounts for thousands of elephants killed in the past few decades. Some tusks come from freshly-killed animals while others are from stockpiles.

Dr Schaedla said it was vital that Malaysia increased its regional cooperation and exchange of information with Asean countries via the Asean Wildlife Enforcement Network.

He also suggested that customs officers improve their communication mechanisms by using the Ecomessage system set up by Interpol. (Ecomessage is a database to coordinate international efforts to combat environmental crime, including illegal trafficking of wildlife.)

Local enforcement agencies should gather intelligence or information and bring it to the National Central Bureau (NCB) located at the federal police headquarters in Bukit Aman.

Dr Schaedla said Malaysian customs officers should also work with the World Customs Organisation's regional intelligence liaison offices to exchange information and intelligence effectively.

However, Dr Schaedla commended the Customs Department for heightening its enforcement measures of late, saying: “Malaysia is now quite serious about wildlife crime but still has a long way to go.”

Traffic has identified Malaysia as “a country of concern” in its latest Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) report.

Records of confiscated ivory shipments showed several seizures in other countries had transited through Penang and Pasir Gudang, which were considered “high-volume” ports.

Among the countries that seized ivory shipments after transiting through Malaysian ports were Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand.

The latter two are themselves known transit hubs for the illegal ivory trade, according to Traffic reports.

A general manager of a shipping company said there were around 50,000 to 100,000 containers which entered ports for transit in a month, adding that the containers were allowed to be stored free in the container yard for 28 days.

He claimed that Customs officers would only conduct an X-ray inspection on containers if they had a tip-off.

According to the World Wildlife Fund Global website, there could have been as many as three to five million African elephants in the 1930s and 1940s.

However, today, only some 300,000 elephants roam southern Africa and considerably fewer in West Africa.

Uggah: We’re taking steps to check ivory smuggling
The Star 3 Sep 11;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is taking serious steps to detect and stop the illegal shipping of ivory through its ports, said Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas.

The Natural Resources and Environment Minister said he had ordered the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) to compile a report on the situation, after engaging with other enforcement authorities.

“They will discuss with the Customs Department and port authorities. We will get to the bottom of this,” he told The Star.

Malaysia’s strategic location meant many ships constantly transit through its ports, Uggah said, adding that it was not fair to label the country as a smuggling hub.

It was difficult to stop smugglers as there were many entry points.

“The ships can stop anywhere. But it does not mean Malaysians are involved,” he said, adding that the report would be out soon.

Wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic deputy regional director Chris Shepherd welcomed Uggah’s move to engage with the authorities.

“Malaysia is a transit country. This is the opportunity to disrupt the trade chain,” he said.

He said that the next step should be to find the players involved and go after them.

Shepherd reminded the Govern­ment to ensure it worked together with its counterparts in source and consumer countries for ivory.

“If there is no international cooperation, it will never be crippled,” he said, adding that the massive volumes and rate of ivory being shipped pointed to a “well-organised” smuggling network.

The ivory is poached from a large part of the African range, including Central Africa, South Africa and around the Congo Basin, with China being the main destination country.

Ivory is in high demand in China for various purposes including luxury items, religious and ornamental carvings.

The 61st meeting of the Conven­tion on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) standing committee last month indicated 2010 had seen the highest levels of elephant poaching since 2002.

1,069 elephant tusks seized in two months
V. Shankar Ganesh New Straits Times 2 Sep 11;

PUTRAJAYA: More than 1,000 elephant tusks were seized by Malaysian authorities when they foiled two attempts to smuggle them in at the Pasir Gudang and Butterworth ports over the last two months.

In the first case on July 8, the Wildlife and National Parks Department and Customs Department seized a container of 405 African elephant tusks declared as plywood at the Pasir Gudang Port.

Natural Resources and Environment Ministry corporate communications head P. Yamuna said in a statement the ship ferrying the container was from an African port and had transited in Singapore.

The second case was on Aug 21 at Butterworth Port, where 664 African elephant tusks were discovered in a container from the United Arab Emirates. The items in the container were declared as used plastics.

She said Customs was investigating both seizures for false declaration and smuggling while the Wildlife and National Parks Department was investigating under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 and the International Trade In Endangered Species Act 2008.

Yamuna said the ministry was also working closely with Interpol, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora secretariats and Asean Wildlife Law Enforcement Network to combat wildlife smuggling.

She said the recent successes were based on information provided by Interpol and this was an example of support from Interpol and other non-governmental organisations.

Yamuna said these were among the efforts by the authorities to put a stop to wildlife smuggling, adding that the ministry was deeply concerned with allegations that Malaysia was being recognised as the international transit point for the activity.

The New Straits Times recently reported that Malaysia was on its way to becoming a hub for international wildlife smuggling following the seizure of hundreds of pieces of ivory tusks in Tanzania and Hong Kong. The tusks had arrived from a Malaysian port.

Traffic, a global wildlife trade monitoring network, disclosed that on Tuesday, Hong Kong Customs officials found the tusks, weighing 1.9 tonnes, concealed inside a shipping container.

Traffic Elephant and Rhino Programme coordinator Tom Milliken, in a statement on Wednesday, had said it was time for Malaysia to get tough on international ivory smugglers, who were tarnishing the country's reputation.

Describing the reports as unfair, Yamuna said the department had doubled its efforts to fight wildlife smuggling and would be fine tuning and beefing up existing integration, cooperation and information networking with other national and international law enforcement agencies.

She said Customs was the main agency that regulated the import and export of goods.

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Oyster gardeners aim to revive ailing U.S. Chesapeake Bay

Matthew A. Ward Reuters Yahoo News 1 Sep 11;

NORFOLK, Va (Reuters) - After 10 years of cultivating oysters in the waters off his backyard dock, Kendall Osborne has developed something of a salt thumb.

He began gardening oysters as a way of bonding with his two daughters and, like hundreds of other Virginians, to help bring the ailing Chesapeake Bay back to life and rid it of dead zones where no sea creatures can survive.

"It's fun to see them grow," said Osborne, whose Norfolk, Virginia, home sits on the shore of the Lafayette River. "When we get them they're very small, about half the size of your pinky fingernail. A year later, they're 2, 3 and occasionally even 4 inches long."

Scientists estimate Chesapeake Bay's oyster population has plummeted to less than 5 percent of levels before European settlement, and oyster gardeners hope their effort to replenish the mollusks will help improve the environment in the bay.

Oysters form large reefs that provide a habitat for marine plants and animals. They feed by filtering microscopic plants from the water, improving water quality, and as adults can filter up to 50 gallons (190 liters) of water a day in optimum conditions.

"If you look at the time of first contact, when the original oyster population had been in place for hundreds of thousands of years, they were able to filter the entire Chesapeake Bay, which is a huge volume of water, in about three or four days," said Tanner Council, a coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which runs an oyster gardening program in Virginia.

"Now it takes the better part of a year."

Volunteer gardeners, of which there are an estimated 300 in Virginia, plant their baby oysters in the late summer and early fall. A year later the gardeners voyage out to sanctuary reefs where the mollusks are deposited.

Council's foundation, which works to better the nation's largest estuary through community involvement and education, also runs a program in Maryland. Other organizations such as the Tidewater Oyster Gardeners Association operate similar programs.


Federal and state governments have spent more than $5 billion trying to clean up the bay, which has a watershed of more than 64,000 square miles (166,000 sq km) and is home to commercial quantities of fish and crabs, as well as oysters.

Pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus flow into the bay from treated sewage, fertilizer and animal manure, leading to unnatural algae blooms and using up oxygen needed by other inhabitants.

As a result, the bay and its tidal waters are stricken by dead zones where sea creatures cannot survive.

In May 2009, President Barack Obama issued an executive order to restore the bay after it continued to fail the "fishable and swimmable" goals of the Clean Water Act.

In response, the Environmental Protection Agency last year published maximum daily pollution guidelines with accountability measures for the six bay states and the District of Columbia.

Those governments are developing Watershed Implementation Plans, which aim to install by 2025 control measures to fully restore the bay and its tidal rivers.

Various other government arms are working toward a solution, including the Department of Agriculture, which in mid-August pledged $848,424 toward reducing the use of manure -- a major phosphorus generator -- as fertilizer.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation says volunteer oyster gardening efforts are a key part of the solution.

"There's tipping points at which populations can crash," Council said. "When all the dots connect you can have a bloom in the oyster population, which is the kind of thing that we're really looking for."

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Cynthia Johnston and Greg McCune)

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Indonesia: When Will We Cash In on the Carbon Trade?

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 31 Aug 11;

Indonesia’s lush forests could help it turn a huge profit in carbon trading, but a lack of clear regulations means the country is not ready for this step, a senior official has warned.

Iman Santoso, the Forestry Ministry’s director general for forestry business, said much of the policy framework necessary for Indonesia to benefit from its forests’ capacity to function as a carbon sink was not yet in place.

“First, we need to have a fixed price [for carbon] so that we can benefit from a carbon-trading scheme,” he said during a recent discussion about the low-carbon economy.

“Second, we still don’t have regulations, for instance about the distribution of the money,” he said. “Who’ll get what? And how much?”

Iman added that while the Forestry Ministry had drafted several policies on the carbon trade, they were still under review because the Finance Ministry had differing opinions.

In 2009, Indonesia announced that it was the first country prepared to host pilot projects to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, or REDD schemes.

These projects involved figuring out how to calculate and distribute the payments for the carbon dioxide sequestered as a result of easing back on logging and other environmentally degrading activities.

With at least 20 REDD pilot projects in place, Indonesia is expected to generate billions of dollars from the carbon trade.

“It’s not that the carbon market isn’t filled with prospects for the future,” Iman said.

“It’s also about communicating [the benefits of the carbon trade] with other stakeholders and departments.”

Without the legal framework for carbon transactions in place, he added, it will be difficult to see any financial benefits.

He said that while current projects could move forward, it was advisable that no new agreements be signed on carbon trades.

“Carbon is not a typical [forestry] commodity, so there are lots of political and moral implications involved in setting a price for it,” he said.

Heru Prasetyo, secretary of the country’s carbon task force, said that REDD went beyond just carbon trading because it also involved preserving biodiversity, the environment and indigenous people’s rights.

“We may not be ready as yet to go into carbon [trading], but we still have the opportunity to prevent emissions and earn revenue from that,” he said.

“We’re in a phase where we’re changing our paradigm on forests from one of exploitation to preservation.”

Iman said that while in the short term, carbon trading might not seem as lucrative as palm oil production or mining — activities that would be curbed under REDD schemes — the long-term benefits were greater.

“This is especially true if we have a healthy economy,” he said. “Why would we sideline it for other investments that have worse [environmental] impacts? We might not see the benefits of carbon trading immediately, but it’s much better for the environment in the long run.”

Mubariq Ahmad, a senior adviser for climate change policy and the low-carbon economy, said the mechanisms for the carbon market would be the same as for any other commodity. Once in place, the market would be ruled by the laws of supply and demand.

“While it will be subject to market forces, we still need clear regulations in place to give investors certainty about the carbon market,” he said.

He added that the low-carbon economy was just part of a wider green economy, which aims to sustain economic growth while reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted through commercial activities.

As with markets for any other commodity, he said, the carbon market could be prone to “carbon cowboys,” or rogue brokers pretending to act on behalf of the state while offering investors a slice of the country’s carbon market.

“We need to stay alert to these operators, but we can’t worry too much about them,” he said.

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Giant pipe and balloon to pump water into the sky in climate experiment

Field test by British academics marks first step towards recreating an artificial volcano that would inject particles into the stratosphere and cool the planet
John Vidal guardian.co.uk 31 Aug 11;

It sounds barmy, audacious or sci-fi: a tethered balloon the size of Wembley stadium suspended 20km above Earth, linked to the ground by a giant garden hose pumping hundreds of tonnes of minute chemical particles a day into the thin stratospheric air to reflect sunlight and cool the planet.

But a team of British academics will next month formally announce the first step towards creating an artificial volcano by going ahead with the world's first major "geo-engineering" field-test in the next few months. The ultimate aim is to mimic the cooling effect that volcanoes have when they inject particles into the stratosphere that bounce some of the Sun's energy back into space, so preventing it from warming the Earth and mitigating the effects of man-made climate change.

Before the full-sized system can be deployed, the research team will test a scaled-down version of the balloon-and-hose design. Backed by a £1.6m government grant and the Royal Society, the team will send a balloon to a height of 1km over an undisclosed location. It will pump nothing more than water into the air, but it will allow climate scientists and engineers to gauge the engineering feasibility of the plan. Ultimately, they aim to test the impact of sulphates and other aerosol particles if they are sprayed directly into the stratosphere.

If the technical problems posed by controlling a massive balloon at more than twice the cruising height of a commercial airliner are resolved, then the team from Cambridge, Oxford, Reading and Bristol universities expect to move to full-scale solar radiation tests.

The principal investigator, Matthew Watson, a former UK government scientific adviser on emergencies and now a Bristol University lecturer, says the experiment is inspired by volcanoes and the way they can affect the climate after eruptions.

"We will test pure water only, in sufficient quantity to test the engineering. Much more research is required," he said, in answer the question of what effect a planetary-scale deployment of the technology could have.

Other leaders of the government-funded Stratospheric particle injection for climate engineering (Spice) project have investigated using missiles, planes, tall chimneys and other ways to send thousands of tonnes of particles into the air but have concluded that a simple balloon and hosepipe system is the cheapest. The research is paid for by the government-funded Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

"The whole weight of this thing is going to be a few hundred tonnes. That's the weight of several double-decker buses. So imagine how big a helium balloon do you need to hold several double-decker buses – a big balloon. We're looking at a balloon which is possibly 100-200m in diameter. It's about the same size as Wembley stadium," said the Oxford engineering lecturer Hugh Hunt in an interview earlier this year.

"This hose would be just like a garden hose, 20km long and we pump stuff up the pipe. The nice thing about it is that we can really have a knob, if you like, which we can control to adjust the rate at which we inject these particles."

While the October experiment is expected to have no impact on the atmosphere, it could also be used to try out "low-level cloud whitening", a geo-engineering proposal backed financially by Microsoft chairman and philanthropist Bill Gates.

In this case, fine sea salt crystals would be pumped up and sprayed into the air to increase the number of droplets and the reflectivity in clouds. Together, many droplets are expected to diffuse sunlight and make a cloud whiter.

However, environment groups in Britain and the US said the government's experiment was a dangerous precedent for a full-scale deployment that could affect rainfall and food supplies. Even if the approach successfully cools the planet by bouncing some of the Sun's energy back into space, it would do nothing for the build up of CO2 in the atmosphere, which leads to increased ocean acidity.

"What is being floated is not only a hose but the whole idea of geo-engineering the planet. This is a huge waste of time and money and shows the UK government's disregard for UN processes. It is the first step in readying the hardware to inject particles into the stratosphere. It has no other purpose and it should not be allowed to go ahead," said Pat Mooney, chair of ETC Group in Canada, an NGO that supports socially responsible development of technology.

Mike Childs, head of science, policy and research at Friends of the Earth UK, said: "We are going to have to look at new technologies which could suck CO2 out of the air. But we don't need to do is invest in harebrained schemes to reflect sunlight into space when we have no idea at all what impact this may have on weather systems around the globe."

But the principle of large-scale geoengineering has been backed strongly by Sir Martin Rees, the former president of Royal Society, which in 2009 concluded in a report that it may be necessary to have a "plan B" if governments could not reduce emissions.

"Nothing should divert us from the main priority of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. But if such reductions achieve too little, too late, there will surely be pressure to consider a 'plan B' – to seek ways to counteract the climatic effects of greenhouse gas emissions by 'geoengineering'," said Rees.

Members of the British public who were consulted by researchers in advance of the Spice experiment were broadly sceptical.

"Overall almost all of our participants were willing to entertain the notion that the test-bed as an engineering test – a research opportunity – should be pursued. Equally, very few were fully comfortable with the notion of stratospheric aerosols as a response to climate change," the Cardiff University-based researchers concluded.

Hacking the planet - potential geo-engineering solutions

Ocean nourishment

Billions of iron filings are deposited in the ocean to stimulate a phytoplankton bloom. The aim is to enhance biological productivity to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Many experiments have been conducted, including fertilisation of 900 square kilometers (350 sq miles) of the Atlantic. Results so far are disappointing.

Space mirrors

Giant "mirrors", made of wire mesh, could be sent into in orbit to deflect sunlight back into space. But the scale needed, the expense and the potential unintended consequences are so great that it is widely considered unrealistic. In the same league as the idea to mine the moon to create a shielding cloud of dust.

Cloud whitening

The idea is to increase the water content in low clouds by spraying sea water at them. This makes them reflect more sunlight. It would be pretty harmless, and cheap but would have to be done on an immense scale to have any global effect. Backed by Bill Gates.

Artificial trees

Proposed by climate scientist Wallace Broecker who imagines 60m artificial "trees" dotted around the world, "scrubbing" the air by capturing CO2 in a filter and then storing it underground. The trees could remove more carbon dioxide than an equivalent-sized real tree.

Albedo changes

Painting roofs and roads white, covering deserts in reflective plastic sheeting, dropping pale-coloured litter into the ocean and genetically engineering crops to be paler have all been proposed to reflect sunlight back into space.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS)

Carbon dioxide is collected from coal or other fossil fuel power plants and is then pumped underground. Works in principle but it is expensive and increases the fuel needs of a coal-fired plant by 25%-40%. More than 40 plants have been built with many others planned.

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