In a Nutshell
The London Protocol prohibits all forms of marine dumping unless explicitly permitted to control marine pollution.
The London Protocol was introduced in 1996 to modernise, and eventually replace, the “Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972″, also known as the London Convention. The Protocol was developed and agreed to by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and entered into force in 2006. It introduced a ‘reverse list’ approach, which outlines wastes and other matters that can be considered for dumping. Carbon dioxide used to be excluded from this list.
The London Protocol is of high significance for carbon dioxide removal, as it provides the international legal basis for sub-seabed geological storage of CO2 and for transboundary CO2 transport in international marine environments. The London Protocol also regulates marine geoengineering, which includes ocean fertilisation.
As the result of an amendment to the Protocol adopted in 2006, carbon dioxide is one of the wastes that can be considered for dumping in marine environments under specific conditions. This amendment provided the legal basis in international law for CO2 sequestration in sub-seabed geological formations and entered into force in 2007.
Until recently, the transboundary transport of CO2 for the purposes of sub-seabed geological storage was prohibited by the Protocol. A legal solution was found in 2019, allowing individual parties to the Protocol to opt in and get permission to conduct such activities, following an amendment adopted in 2009 still pending entry into force.
What's on the Horizon?
The first bilateral arrangement regarding the transborder transport of CO2 for geological storage under Article 6 of the London Protocol was signed between Belgium and Denmark on 26 September 2022. Several other European countries have signalled their willingness to adopt such arrangements and have already engaged in bilateral processes, such as Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland.
Background on the London Convention and the London Protocol
The London Convention, established under the International Maritime Organisation, was adopted in 1972 and entered into force in 1975. It consisted of a grey list of substances that could be considered for dumping under strict control and a black list of substances that were prohibited under any condition. All other substances could be dumped after a permit had been issued.
Adopted in 1996, the London Protocol replaces the Convention and is built around the precautionary principle. Except for the substances listed in its reverse list in Annex 1, the dumping of any substance is strictly prohibited. When it entered into force in March 2006, the list comprised seven substances, including sewage sludge and dredged material.
Inclusion of CO2 in the reverse list
A 2006 amendment included CO2 streams from carbon dioxide capture and sequestration in waste and other forms of dumping materials. It stipulates that levels of radioactivity shall not be greater than those specified in the Protocol, the CO2 captured must be disposed of in sub-seabed geological formations, the stream must consist overwhelmingly of CO2, and no wastes or other matters can be added for the purpose of disposing.
Transborder transport of CO2
In the initial text of the Protocol, Article 6 prohibited the export to other countries of all substances for dumping or incineration at sea. In 2009, Norway submitted an amendment proposal to allow the export of CO2 streams for disposal in sub-seabed geological formations, provided that an agreement or arrangement is made between the countries concerned. This amendment was adopted in late 2009. However, it has yet to enter into force as of August 2023, as fewer than two-thirds of the parties to the Protocol have ratified it so far. The countries that have ratified it are Norway, the UK, the Netherlands, Iran, Finland, Estonia, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark and the Republic of Korea. Germany and France are in the process of ratifying the amendment.
To avoid this legislative roadblock, Norway and the Netherlands co-filed a resolution to allow the provisional application of the 2009 amendment. They claimed that the EU CCS Directive provided sufficiently strong protection for human health and environmental safety. This resolution was adopted in 2019, meaning that two countries or more can now export CO2 for sub-seabed geological storage, provided that they have ratified the Article 6 amendment and submitted a formal declaration of provisional application to the IMO. The first bilateral arrangement was signed between Belgium and Denmark on 26 September, 2022. Several other European countries have signalled their willingness to adopt such arrangements, such as Norway, the Netherlands, Finland and Switzerland.
Marine geoengineering within the London Protocol
The London Protocol provides one of the few international legal frameworks around marine geoengineering, defined as “a deliberate intervention in the marine environment to manipulate natural processes, including to counteract anthropogenic climate change and/or its impacts, and that has the potential to result in deleterious effects, especially where those effects may be widespread, long-lasting or severe”.
In 2008, parties to the Protocol adopted a resolution to regulate ocean fertilisation, deciding that such activities are against the aims of the Convention and the Protocol unless conducted for legitimate scientific purposes. It also called for the creation of a framework to assess scientific research proposals. In 2013, parties to the Protocol adopted another resolution to provide a regulatory framework not only for ocean fertilisation but for other marine geoengineering activities, such as alkalinity enhancement, seabed rocks mineralisation or deposition of crop wastes on the seabed. Eligible activities are listed in Annex 4 of the resolution, and it currently only consists of ocean mineralisation. Therefore, other types of marine geoengineering are currently prohibited under the London Protocol. It is to be noted that this resolution is non-binding, meaning that parties could choose not to respect it without clear consequences.
Adoption of the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter
Entry into force of the London Convention
Adoption of the London Protocol to update and eventually replace the London Convention
Entry into force of the London Protocol
Adoption of an amendment to the Protocol to allow sub-seabed geological storage of CO2
Entry into force of the November 2006 amendment to the London Protocol
Amendment to the London Protocol to allow transboundary CO2 transport
Amendment to the Protocol to regulate marine geoengineering, including ocean fertilisation
Permission of provisional application of the 2009 CO2 transport amendment through bilateral arrangements
Denmark and Belgium signed the first bilateral agreement on cross-border transportation of CO2 for the purpose of permanent geological storage
1996 Protocol To The Convention On The Prevention Of Marine Pollution By Dumping Of Wastes And Other Matter, 1972
The London Protocol