Thoughts on GCPC 2015 – Club Goods and Technology Transfer

The UNFCCC has one of the most effective mechanisms for assessing and integrating academic research into its processes – the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  The controversy over the existence, scale and impact of the climate problem meant that an ostensibly non-partisan, non-political mechanism was needed to assess the best available data and research.  The IPCC presents an unprecedented consensus about what counts as appropriate and useful scientific research that should be fed into the policy process and what should stand outside it.  To a significant extent, it is this filtering process that has generally kept the crazies and the methodologically unsound out of the UNFCCC negotiating process.

The IPCC however, has a problem. In its 5 year cycle of assessments it does not really allow for dynamic consideration of new research, especially research aimed at assessing the effectiveness of policies implemented by, through, and in service of the existing UNFCCC agreements and institutions.  The IPCC is not in a position to, nor does it have a mandate to, assess the research on the extent to which the UNFCCC agreements and institutions are meeting their stated goals of mitigation, adaptation, technology transfer and financial support. The prime example of this is the concern about the design of a new market mechanism given the issues raised about how effective the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) has been.  Some of these concerns have been driven by academic research but most of it has been by countries raising problems at a political level and by the mechanisms within the UNFCCC itself such as the Subsidiary Body on implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA).  Neither of those last two bodies have ever lived up to the hope that they would be pathways for research to be integrated into UNFCCC negotiations and implementation processes. The members of the SBI and SBSTA have largely remained political actors and what few products that they have published have been methodologically weak, limited in scope and overly reliant on work by the secretariat and consultants. This fundamental weakness is combined with a failure to focus on academic research generated and distributed by researchers in developing countries where implementation of the UNFCCC goals is taking place. There is a serious problem of how to ensure that the right, relevant research feeds into the UNFCCC processes and institutions and is reflected in the negotiating outcomes.  Given the weakness of the formal mechanisms, what remains are those such as side-events, contributions and statements from the Research NGOs group (RINGOs) and the participation of policymakers themselves in academic conferences.  Given that most academic conferences can be mind-numbing exercises in niche-building which is rarely policy-relevant. I was really excited to attend and rapporteur at the Global Climate Policy Conference 2015 (GCPC2015), held in Delhi 30 April – May 1.  If you want to read the presentations see here (http://climatestrategies.org/call-for-abstracts-global-climate-policy-conference-2015/) and to see the framework project in which the conference took place, led by Climate Strategies and the Stanley Foundation, see (http://climatestrategies.org/projects/global-research-policy-interface-climate-2015-strengthening-the-research-policy-interface-in-the-international-climate-negotiations/)

Part of the strategy underlying GCPC 2015 is that holding conferences like this can result in shorter analytical pieces which can be inserted into the UNFCCC discussions, with the hope that policymakers will read and integrate these into their positions and goals.  My own participation in the negotiations, as co-Chair of the Climate Action Network’s Technology Working Group, makes me less than hopeful that even analytical pieces can play that role given the very low amount of bandwidth available to most negotiators during the negotiations.  I’ve always believed that the best place to catch policymakers and negotiators is in two places – at home, in their home ministries with a particular piece of research that solves a problem that they have within their domestic policy formulation framework; at a really nice hotel or venue isolated from the negotiations and from their home ministries in a bigger picture conference that allows them the freedom to speak frankly and react to presentations by researchers.  The trick is finding both the right venue and the right speakers who can translate their research really well, and as GCPC 2015 proved, restricting internet access.

I think the GCPC 2015 succeeded on two of the points – it did go to the right place by going to the home city and venue of key policymakers – Delhi at this stage in the UNFCCC negotiations is a crucial influence point. The speakers were all uniformly excellent at translating the research into policy relevant language. However, I’m not sure that the right set of policymakers were there, although there were some amazing former ministry and other former government actors.  GCPC 2015 was great at connecting up the European academic policy/academic network with the Indian one, but I’m still not sure how well it managed to pull in current Indian policymakers. As someone who has had to put these kind of things together, even in Geneva, a town lousy with negotiators and relevant institutions, getting people to your event can be like pulling teeth, even when you hold it right on their doorstep.  Part of the issue is one of trust, the other is concern about exposure, and finally, time is simply a problem.

That said, GCPC 2015 was interesting and exciting and I cannot say enough good things about the research being done in India, by Indian researchers and the hard headed optimism of Indian policymakers.

One of the key things that was discussed at GCPC 2015 and that I am still grappling with as a policy approach is the club goods idea i.e. that some groups of countries may act to proceed more quickly than others where there is significant overlap and agreement on core issues.  To some extent this reflects the realism that many of the countries now in negotiations are not in a position to commit to significant action in a way that is measurable, reportable and verifiable and that those countries that are should be able to proceed.  The conference concerned itself with whether and how that would take place and what would be the elements for participation, incentives for becoming club-members, and disincentives for remaining outside of the club. What seemed clear is that technology cooperation would have to be part of any club framework. Additionally, adaptation would have to be embedded in any club good framework.

I can only imagine that this approach presumes that the US would likely be outside the club, while Europe, China and India would likely be in.  Whatever the case, any club would have to include and therefore induce India and China to act in ways that they will not or cannot in the context of the current multilateral framework.   I remain somewhat unconvinced that the Europeans are willing to pay the price in finance and technology support that would be required to induce China and India to participate in a club that excludes the US.  That said, there were sub-topical club regimes, such a carbon pricing regimes (e.g. carbon trading) that could function as clubs that were discussed, especially in Vikram Widge’s (http://climatestrategies.org/call-for-abstracts-global-climate-policy-conference-2015/vikram-widge/) , technically difficult but excellent presentation on linkage between carbon pricing regimes.

Kasturi Das (http://climatestrategies.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Dr.-Kasturi-Das.pdf) also provided a succinct analysis of just how much room there was to impose differential treatment of non-club members which seems to be relatively open, even in the fields of border carbon adjustments.

The group was, I believe, in consensus that while carbon pricing through whatever mechanism was a necessity, that it really could not be implemented without also ensuring equitable energy access. To that point, Narasimha Rao’s presentation (http://climatestrategies.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/NRao-Session1-mainslides.pdf) argued that in getting around the use of weak proxies for carbon space such as per capita emissions we should focus directly on the core of the equity issue which is energy access.  He argued, and frankly it was hard to disagree, that any regime imposing emissions reductions obligations, especially through carbon pricing, would have to ensure that energy use  and energy access was equitably distributed to those most in need.  To some extent, he argued that this could allow emissions obligations to be somewhat delinked from increased energy use, provided that benefits from energy efficiency in production and use flowed to those most in need of energy, rather than simply being re-appropriated by the middle and upper classes.  Again, as a means to get around the existing limits of the carbon budget discussion, this seems to point to a way for a club to form that does not present such a zero-sum game between developed and developing countries.

Closer to my home topic, Ahmed Abdel Latif (ICTSD and the E15 Initiative) presented on the role of public private partnerships (PPPs) in technology transfer (http://climatestrategies.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Ahmed-Abdel-Latif.pdf).  Ahmed pointed to several challenges for PPPs, but especially the interface with the multilateral framework and whether such PPPs may best be formed at national level or at the international level.  It seems clear to me that for successful technology transfer, these must be international and will require provisions that ensure broad deployment of technologies.  In a sense, PPPs, if broadly constructed are a form of club and capable of generating club goods either co-extensively with a broader club agreement or as a sub-element of a broader club agreement.  PPPs make sense in that they allow government stakeholders to intervene and invest jointly with private sector actors where the market has failed. It also allows governments to provide missing capital or other infrastructure to enable innovations to get through the technology valley of death that prevents proper commercialization of technologies, while ensuring positive public policy outcomes in terms of deployment and distribution.  In particular, I’ve always argued that government stakeholders in such PPPs must retain sufficient control to ensure pricing and dissemination decisions promote access to technology.  What I think may be a problem for PPPs is how to get competitors to partner together when they are reluctant to share their technology and know-how. This points to the key role that governments can play as guarantors of good behavior, as well as providing incentives and regulatory sticks to enable cooperation.

In the end, what was missing for me, and which seemed crucial to addressing particularly India’s concerns, was the extent to which some particular accommodation on intellectual property would be necessary to enable the club approach and whether the issue would play the same role as a sore point of trust within the club as it does in the broader multilateral context.  The UNFCCC negotiations resume in Bonn from June 1 – 11 and the Road to the 2015 Paris Agreement continues to be built.  It will be interesting to see the extent to which the parties begin to consider how to address those parties that continue to be laggards in agreeing to reduce emissions and to provide technology and financial support.

Recommended Citation: Shabalala, D “Thoughts on GCPC 2015 – Club Goods and Technology Transfer?”, Technology Transfer for Climate Change (May 29, 2015) 


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