The rising importance of technology transfer in the UNFCCC

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Mark Radka (second left), Chief, Energy Branch, UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE), discusses the proposed structure of the newest body in the UNFCCC, the Climate Technology Centre (CTC)

A new area of focus for the UNFCCC is that of technology transfer. Referred to as the ‘baby’ of mechanisms, technology transfer has gained considerable traction since its establishment as a priority at the 2010 Cancun COP. The reasons behind this involve a pulled focus on ground-level infrastructural work to mitigate and adapt to climate change. This movement is seen as a refreshing complement to the relatively slow push toward carbon emissions pricing and mitigation strategies around established systems. With the developing world eager to move forward, the UNFCCC has grown increasingly aware of the need to research and develop technologies that pull away from systems proven outdated given the climate change science that has been embraced.

Gabriel Blanco, Chair of the Technology Executive Committee, kicked off the high-level side event Experience and Outlook on Climate Technology Transfer saying “since we established the technology mechanism back in Cancun, something new happened under the convention regarding the technology transfer process; for the first time, we opened the door for participation of relevant stakeholders in this field.”

Blanco especially addressed business and private sector members of the audience citing the big opportunity to engage in a UNFCCC process like technology transfer and development—“the door is open now within this tech mechanism,” he said.

The technical arm, he said, gathers and analyzes information in order to provide recommendations to the COP about technology transfer. He said that this arm has been working actively for a year and a half, participating in constructive discussions with committee members, experts and institutions. He said that observers have also sent their views through forms. He said the conversations revolved around creating enabling environments for technology transfer and implementation as well as assessment of barriers to technology in specific cases.

“Through workshops and dialogues on this issue,” he explained, “we were able to draw some key messages related to the importance of the committee–these key messages may be obvious, but you have to think about this in terms of process.” (His description of the key messages follows:)

Blanco said that the challenge is largely directed at the private sector, specifically regarding adaptation and looking closely at the entire cycle of technology development and transfer. The committee needs the private sector on board, not only for mitigation but also for activities in developing countries, he said.

Through technology needs assessments (TNAs), the committee gathered information related to agriculture, forestry and transport sectors among others. “We can identify from the TNA process the main barriers to transfer and development of technology in developing countries. There are several we see so far including institutional capacity, technical capabilities and, of course, finance,” Blanco said.

The most critical concept to consider, he said, is how investors think about the technology cycle given the need for adaptation. The “research development and demonstration” (RD&D), presents significant challenge because of the lack of financial investment around demonstration—yet this is what is needed to ensure that the technology works in any given location. “There’s a lot of risk in the demonstration of the technology,” Blanco said, “that’s why they call it the ‘valley of death.’”

He finished by touching on intellectual property rights (IPR), saying that the message the committee is delivering to COP regarding IPR is that it’s an issue that would benefit from more clarity and attention on a case-by-case basis. “It is difficult to generalize the discussion on IPRs—it’s not closed and we will continue to work and in this topic depending on where the IPR are located.”

Mark Radka, Chief, Energy Branch, UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE), based his panel presentation on three images of how the technology committee has taken shape as a mechanism over the past year since the parties approved it.

“We had some good partners, and we assembled a consortium of institutions and put in a proposal that was ranked first by an evaluation committee,” he explained. “It’s a mechanism requiring reporting on how the technology is working—at an operational level, we put into place a core—UNEP and United Nations Industrial Development Organization.”

Surrounding this core, Radka described a technical resource pool of 11 institutions in developing and developed countries. These comprise engineers, scientists, lawyers and policy experts who provide, in addition to their expertise, regional understanding and language capabilities.

Beyond the institutional level exists “the real operational arm,” Radka said. “It’s the intention of the parties, and it’s our intention as well, to build on existing networks of institutions with the help of individuals who can contribute to the faster diffusion of climate change mitigation and adaptation technology. We will use this network to provide support to developing countries.”

In the end, Radka stressed that the UN and the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) will need to figure out how to work closely together. “It’s apparent that there is an amount of expertise that exists in UN programs, that bits of the UN system have capabilities depending on their mission … we have collectively a great deal of experience. I’m convinced that we need to tap it within the local context, with a link to national priorities, a link to national strategies and plans.”

Key will be identifying and coaching nationally designated entities (NDEs), he said, making sure everyone is on the same page so that the transfer of information between the NDEs and the Climate Technology Centre (CTC) will flow smoothly.

Fatima Denton, Program Leader for Climate Change Adaptation in Africa, spoke about challenges in least developing countries which are “quite well known but we can’t overstate them,” she said.

The first challenge, she said, is how to scale technology up in the midst of weak economies, particularly where government architecture is still in transition. “Many countries are poorly equipped to deal with these issues; their institutions are 20 to 30 years old and there’s a certain degree of complexity that we haven’t seen before related to the need for institutional renewal in some cases.”

Radka touched on how the CTCN will work with nationally designated entities (NDEs)

Radka touched on how the CTCN will work with nationally designated entities (NDEs) to evaluate technology needs and best fits as well as how to effectively draw investment and based on sound plans and capacity building over the long-term

She said the cost of the transition is high, and that the lack of incentives for governments in least developed countries precludes a move forward in terms of the overall energy transition.

“Many countries in Africa are still firmly gridlocked and are unable to move forward,” she said. “Many countries that were able to use cleaner energy have now moved back because the subsidies are no longer there. We all know about the story related to the Climate Development Mechanism (CDM); many countries have taken advantage of this—China has 70 percent of the finance available so far … Africa has had less than 2 percent.”

Denton emphasized policy-level issues and a need for regulatory bodies that would help developing countries to sustain technologies over time. “There are no institutions firmly rooted to accompany these countries. The problems in Africa in the area of technology are so big, and there is no one country that could really go it alone—an extended family is how you bring this countries together to take advantage of the technologies in place. We need to make sure that the pool of tech is open to a set of countries that have identified their needs.”

Denton concluded that R&D is a particularly big challenge in Africa since countries therein don’t tend to invest a lot in this area. She stressed a need to create more incentives around R&D investment, continent wide.

Joe Bradley, Counselor at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). Touched on the need for intellectual property (IP) systems solutions, saying that the access to technical information is key for the CTCN to function.

This involves making patent information available and he said WIPO offers a number of services to make the information available. He described a database called “Patent Scope” that involves 11 billion patents on technoloiges.

“You can go in and look into these databases and identify all the technology that’s already out there,” he explained.

The next step, he explained, would be analyzing the technology, a service which WIPO addresses with services like patent landscape reports that analyze particular technology areas.

“One recent report was on alternative energy use for desalination,” he said. “Where  it’s being done, who is using it and how it’s working—it’s extremely useful to know what the state-of-the-art is.

“We look forward to contributing to CTCN,” he continued, describing WIPO’s partnerships with the scientific publishing sector and how the organization is making scientific findings available to developing countries. He said WIPO is a “one stop shop” that offers training on how to access patent data and non-patent scientific literature. Of high relevance was his description of WIPO Green, a project specifically designed to assist developing countries through training and access to information on the latest technology available related to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Dr. Jean-Yves Caneill, Head of Climate Policy at the Environmental Defense Fund focused on the demand for electricity worldwide and how that demand is growing rapidly as countries develop. Looking out over the next 50 years, he said the challenge is huge and investments must be made everywhere to offset the dependency on coal

“Coal is not climate friendly, other technologies must come on board and this is the challenge,” he said. “We have different stages of tech and different levels of maturity and we have to address this so as not to make mistakes around policies, so that the technologies can be employed on the ground.”

Interestingly, he said that the technology prospectus report features technologies that, if implemented effectively and globally, would allow for the successful reduction of carbon to 450 ppm levels called for.

“This could be done with the technology available today,” he said. “You face the different barriers that have been explained before—institutional frameworks, market reform, capacity building reform—these are essential if you want to  institutional framework, market reform, capacity building reform address the diffusion and deployment of electricity everywhere. It’s important to develop an enabling environment everywhere.

He stressed that the CTCN will need to look at ways to develop enabling environments so that the private sector invests, worldwide.

“It can be done … we know the conditions where we [the private sector] are making the investments. Working with the CTCN we will be able to bring the real information on the ground and identifiy what will be needed to move from 30 percent [green technology] to 70 percent of the technology onto the ground.”

In the end, Caneill stressed the need to link the CTCN with other bodies in the UNFCCC and with the private entities. The link to the Green Climate Fund (GFC), he said, will be particularly important and linked to nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) that show countries are going in a low-carbon direction. He concluded that NAMAs, the GFC and technology transfer are three parts of a triangle dynamic triangle that could potentially lead to effective green technology implementation.

2 thoughts on “The rising importance of technology transfer in the UNFCCC

  1. Pingback: The Science of Urgency–Reflections on COP 18 « qscience.the blog

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