Author: Dafydd Elis

On Wednesday at COP15, a side event packed with high-profile representatives of intergovernmental agencies and national governments discussed the prospects for technology transfer over the coming decades.

The session was opened by the chair, UN-DESA‘s Sha Zukang. He outlined a vision for technology transfer in three parts.

The issues

First, he said, technology transfer arrangements should adhere to four principles: timeliness (we need to use technologies that are available now, and we must accelerate their diffusion); equity (technology can contribute to inequality if legal or economic barriers prevent it from being used by poor nations); transparency (opacity will only slow the process); and safety (all technologies entail risks and these will need to managed as we move ahead).

Second, he pointed to the Marshall Plan, the Green Revolution and the child immunisation programme as programmes that succeeded because they were underpinned by good strategies. He called for a similarly strategic, integrated, approach to technology transfer in order to achieve the same effect.

Third, he called for the technology transfer debate to be specific: focussing on the critical sectors of renewable energy, energy efficiency, forests and food & agriculture.

The approach

Jairam Ramesh, India’s Minister of Environment and Forests, then shared his thoughts on the important issues in the technology transfer debate. He argued that the architecture for technology transfer will need to include a diversity of approaches for different contexts. This could include both publicly financed initiatives, public-private initiatives or new frameworks. He also suggested that some kind of change would be required to Intellectual Property regimes, perhaps along the lines of the amendments made to the WTO’s TRIPS to allow the use of generic drugs for AIDS, malaria and TB. Finally, he underlined the importance of capacity building, and enhancing developing countries’ ability to absorb and use new climate technologies.

The organisations

The rest of the speakers at the event represented intergovernmental organisations – UNEP, UNDP, UNIDO, IRENA, GEF and WIPO. They outlined the work that the UN is doing in energy: a discussion that made it clear that across the UN agencies working in this area there is an awareness of the interaction between social and economic issues and the climate change agenda – particularly the ‘bottom billion’ who do not have any access to electricity. While there are tensions between the agenda of poverty alleviation and reducing emissions, a few of the commentators expressed optimism about the opportunities to combine strategies to provide access to energy and simultaneously move developing countries’ development to a low-carbon pathway.

The presentations from GEF and IRENA highlighted the action that is already under way to develop and implement technology transfer initiatives. The GEF’s work in developing the Pozna? Strategic Program on Technology Transfer has already resulted in funding being made available to develop national Technology Needs Assessment for developing countries and a number of technology transfer initiatives. IRENA, a new organisation dedicated to renewable energy, will be working on providing support to developing countries as they seek to increase their share of energy delivered from renewable sources.

Side events at COP15 don’t directly contribute to the negotiation of a new treaty on climate change. But they often provide an opportunity to look beneath the language of negotiating texts and think about the challenges of turning the words on paper into action on the ground. Whatever agreement is eventually reached by national leaders through the UNFCCC, the challenge of implementation will be even greater than the challenge of reaching agreement in the first place.

Even while the climate deal is hanging in the balance, then, it’s good to know that the institutional architecture for technology transfer is already beginning to take shape.

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