Technology Transfer for Climate Change

Which climate technologies do we need to have developed and diffused?
August 26, 2016, 11:55
Filed under: Definitions, Paris2015, R&D

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.

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What is the Paris Climate Agreement’s new Technology Framework about?

In the Paris Agreement countries agreed that a new Technology Framework was needed. Specifically, the Agreement states:

Article 10(4) – A technology framework is hereby established to provide overarching guidance to the work of the Technology Mechanism in promoting and facilitating enhanced action on technology development and transfer in order to support the implementation of this Agreement, in pursuit of the long-term vision referred to in paragraph 1 of this Article.

The framework is only directed at the current Technology Mechanism (The Technology Executive Committee (TEC) and the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN)). It does not address countries’ individual responsibilities to provide financial or technology support and does not reference or impact Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which are the primary ways in which country commitments under Paris are articulated. This means that the framework is the only real substantive outcome on technology from the Paris Agreement. As has happened before, all the text on financial support for technology and on intellectual property dropped out. The pattern of developing countries settling for institutional tinkering over substantive commitments on technology continued in Paris.

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Tech in Paris 2015: Institutional tinkering instead of real substance

Looking at technology in the Paris Agreement its difficult to avoid a deep sense of déjà vu, all over again. As in Cancun, Durban, all the way back to the Buenos Aires Plan of Action, the technology text and decision seems doomed to be reduced to more tinkering with the design of technology institutions rather than substantive commitments on technology support, policies and measures. In the Paris negotiating text, all substantive commitments, including on intellectual property, that had been included in the Geneva text have all but disappeared, reduced to generally vague mentions in optional paragraphs 7.4 and 7.5.  The proposed decision text focuses primarily on the never-ending saga of technology needs assessments and only in paragraph 50 provides for specific commitments by developed countries on intellectual property (IPRs), and financial support.  However, the largest amount of technology text and energy is aimed at the establishment of a new technology framework which is to be developed by the new Intergovernmental Preparatory Committee (IPC) and adopted by the CMA at its first session.  The details of what this framework will entail remain unclear but are likely to be drawn from the 4CP/7 framework on technology needs assessment; technology information; enabling environments; capacity building; mechanisms for technology transfer. History shows that the only elements of that framework that led to implementation were the TNAs. Technology Information remained largely a failure under TT:CLEAR and enabling environments in developed countries were never addressed and remained a subject of contention. Mechanisms for technology transfer were reduced to the Expert group on technology Transfer (EGTT) talk shop, and the less said about capacity building the better.  Any new framework must not only improve on this less than stellar record but must provide for specificity on activities to be taken by key stakeholders: the developing countries; the developing countries; and the technology institutions – the CTCN and the TEC.

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