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Technology (transfer?) – agreement needed at Copenhagen

worldvision.org.uk)

A woman builds a fuel-efficient stove in DRC (credit: worldvision.org.uk)

There was a meeting on climate technology transfer in Delhi a few weeks ago, and the G77+China made their feelings known that an agreement on technology transfer is crucial to a fair global deal.

At issue is the fact that rich countries are demanding that poorer countries like India and China reduce their emissions, even while their per capita emissions are far, far lower than theirs. Part of rich countries’ side of the bargain, therefore, has to be to help provide these low-carbon technologies to poor countries. By low-carbon technologies, I’m talking about CCS, fuel-efficient stoves, solar water heating – anything that is a tool in the journey towards low carbon economies across the world.

Whilst India’s emissions are rising fast, and the highest-profile climate disputes have been between the US and India, we should remember that 400 million Indians still live without electricity, some 25% (!) of world’s total. Technology, and sometimes technology transfer, will need to be part of the solution.

It sounds easy, but actually it is quite hard for poor countries to even assess their needs. Foreign technologies do not necessarily fit different contexts (this has been a long and hard lesson learnt in the water supply sector)

NGOs often trumpet the superiority of “indigenous technologies”, and usually rightly so. But they also always face the perennial problem of scaling up, and scaling up fast. “Upward” dissemination of successful technology options is often fragmented. Furthermore, it must be remembered that this isn’t simply the case of funding a few research institutes to come up with gizmos and then the money running out, but also training the next generation of local technicians.

So, perhaps it’s wrong to talk about technology “transfer”. Collaboration is probably a better way to put it, especially since much of the best new “cleantech” is coming out of the global south. India has suggested a network of climate or technology innovation centres in developing countries (the kind of south-south technology collaboration I wrote about here). These centres could identify locally relevant technologies, deploy them faster, and build capacity.

Furthermore, this isn’t only about the poorest countries and relatively simple technologies. Recent research carried out in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand found that there wasn’t enough R+D going on in the fields of clean coal, biofuels and solar power. This was due to a number of reasons, but particularly due to skills, high capital costs, intellectual property rights, and cost. Copenhagen needs to address the latter, at least to a degree.

In the end, it doesn’t matter where the technology comes from (transferred, collaborated upon, or indigenous) as long as it is appropriate and the price is right!

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