Rich countries, led by the US, have opposed discussing proposals from various poor countries around the reform of intellectual property rights (IPR). These discussions are crucial to technology transfer efforts. This document is quite useful as a primer on IPR and climate change.Technology transfer (as I’ve written before) will be crucial for helping poor countries develop clean technologies. However, current IPR regimes are quite restrictive, and much IP is owned by private companies who don’t want to give it away for free.

This isn’t the first time these issues have come up in a global social justice context. A few years ago there was uproar when big pharma tried to stop generic drugs companies copying their HIV/AIDS treatments and selling them at prices which poor people in developing countries could afford.

G77+ China have been arguing that rich nations should buy cleantech IPR from private companies in their countries and make it available to all, in the name of climate justice. This move would also prevent those companies from making huge profits out of the necessity of the world moving towards less carbon-intensive growth.

It is essentially another row about market-based mechanisms – countries like India are arguing that the market can’t be trusted to provide a consistent flow of technologies, which is fair enough. Of course, there is another side to the argument. It would be very difficult to change the IP regime to accommodate free transfer of clan technologies – the whole thing could need to be rewritten.

Furthermore, it would remove the profit motive for companies to develop the technology in the first place. Therefore, rich countries are sceptical because if the idea was put in place it would essentially involve them massively subsidising green industry, distorting markets, and generally holding back the “invisible hand” that is supposedly going to solve all our climate problems.

In any case, there has to be a way around this issue that lets technology transfer happen in both a fast and fair way. Just don’t expect rich countries to budget on IPR reform…

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