Definitions, Paris2015, R&D

Which climate technologies do we need to have developed and diffused?

As we begin to move into the implementation phase of the Paris Climate Agreement, it seems appropriate to revisit and assess some questions relating to intellectual property and climate change.  This is especially important because choices will need to be made on which technologies are effective, which pose the most risks and which will be funded by the Green Climate Fund and other financial mechanisms of the UNFCCC.

Any discussion of whether intellectual property forms a barrier to technology transfer has to define the scope of technologies that are being discussed.  One of the most obvious failings in the debate is that most of it is largely limited to mitigation technologies, and a very small set of mitigation technologies at that. Adaptation is rarely addressed.  I argue that when properly taken into account, the scope of technologies implicates the entire system for technology regulation and thus the most important level for that, the intellectual property framework.  To get to that answer we need to take two intermediate steps: first, identify the nature and type of technologies implicated by the global need; second, identify what empirical evidence we have about the scale of patenting and licensing of these technologies.

In chapter 2 of my book  I conduct an examination of the global mitigation and adaptation technology needs, based on assessments by the International Energy Agency (Energy Technology Perspectives 2010, and 2012), analyses of technology needs assessments conducted by countries and synthesized by the UNFCCC secretariat (link), outcomes of IPCC scenarios and analyses.

In mitigation (including agriculture) the sectors for technology needs are:

  • End-use fuel efficiency (vehicles)
  • End-use electricity efficiency (household, including appliances; industrial especially in iron and steel, cement and chemicals)
  • Super-critical coal and ultra-super critical coal burning
  • Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in Power generation
  • Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in Industrial Activity
  • Renewables (solar PV, solar CSP, wind onshore and offshore, wind geothermal, biomass and bioenergy)
  • Nuclear
  • Power generation efficiency and fuel switching
  • Electric vehicles (including hybrids)
  • Fuel cell vehicles
  • Battery storage (vehicles, household use, and grid)
  • Smart Grid technologies (hardware and software)
  • Less GHG intensive fertilizers;
  • Plant varieties that are less reliant on GHG intensive fertilizers, either because they produce higher yields or are more efficient at soil nutrient uptake;
  • Animal variants and breeds less likely to produce methane during digestion;
  • Management of animal waste, including recycling into biogas and other biomass for energy generation;
  • Animal feed less likely to produce methane;

In adaptation, where we define it as both enabling adjustments to climate change and increasing resilience to climate change (thus implicating broader development more generally), core areas are:

  • Sustainable Energy Access (Sustainable biomass use – efficient wood burning stoves; Micro-solar; Micro-hydro; Micro-wind)
  • Water ( water treatment and sanitation infrastructure; water desalination technologies; Smart and/or active water metering systems, managed by software; Water capture and storage; Efficient water use and reclamation technologies, especially in industry)
  • Food
    • New varieties or adaptations and wider use of existing plant and animal varieties. Needed characteristics include drought resistance, flood resistance, salt-water resistance; short harvest cycles, longer harvest cycles; ease of fertilizer use; pest and plant disease resistance;
    • Agricultural Information and communication technologies – including telemetry, soil monitoring – access to local weather forecasting on short and long-term cycles, satellite imagery;
  • Human health
  • Medical products, processes and services related to managing health needs during extreme weather events;
  • Medical products, processes and services related to managing health needs during periods of extreme heat (heat waves) and extreme cold, especially for vulnerable populations such as the elderly and young children.
    • Medical products, processes and services related to increasing resistance to vector borne and temperature sensitive diseases;
    • Medical products, processes and services related to increasing general immune-capacity, e.g. vaccines;
    • Products, processes and services designed to create hygienic and sanitary living and working conditions, such as access to potable water and sanitary facilities.
  • Data, Awareness and disaster preparedness
    • early warning systems for disasters (including communications);
    • alternative disaster-appropriate transport systems (e.g., boats);
    • systems for strengthening waste disposal sites against leakage during disasters;
    • disaster mitigation systems, such as flood and sea walls, flood channels; and
    • extreme weather event resistant building materials.

The analysis on mitigation and adaptation suggests that the scope of technologies implicated may be economy wide.  The need to address action across a wide portfolio of technologies also argues against attempts to limit the scope of action to enable technology transfer only to a few technology sectors. The core finding is that a broad portfolio of technologies needs to be addressed in each sector, not just best available technologies and not just those that are not IP protected.

Recommended Citation: Dalindyebo Shabalala, “Which climate technologies do we need to have developed and diffused?”, Technology Transfer for Climate Change (Aug 25, 2015)


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