Technology Transfer and the UN Climate Goals

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 16:33
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    System Change Not Climate ChangeI recently attended the Technology Transfer Workshop at the UN as an observer. The name of the conference was “Development, transfer and dissemination of clean and environmentally sound technologies in developing countries.” This workshop was a preliminary discussion which will lead up to the COP post-2015 agenda. The discussion focused on the role of international institutions to facilitate Research & Development in promoting more rapid, widespread and global transfer of environmentally sound technologies. Lack of information flow, capacity building (including intellectual property) and international cooperation were cited as the main gaps in Technology Transfer (TT).

    The intellectual Property (IP) regimes are built in order to exploit the positive externality that exists between the social values of disclosing inventions being greater than the direct value to inventors. Exclusive rights to inventors are meant to stimulate innovation, by offering compensation and protection for innovation in both the social and technological space. Tension arises when IP regimes butt up against sustainable development objectives because, for example, developing nations often face capacity challenges. This poses a significant obstacle to more ubiquitous spread of renewable energy technologies around the globe. The overarching question is how to achieve both innovation and incentive within the framework of international renewable energy policy goals?

    Whereas invention and innovation are driven by the protection and profit from lucrative ideas and technologies, sustainable development often requires more rapid dissemination of these (i.e. renewable energy). For example, deductive reasoning extrapolates the most effective renewable energy technology is pertinent for increasing the use of sustainable energy, not only in developed countries (mostly protecting its patent rights and where it is affordable), but also in developing countries; such developing countries are usually without adequate access to power and where more polluting and expensive sources of energy must be used.

    United NationsAlexandra Mallet defined the means of Technology Transfer, conventionally, as being the movement of goods and services. This, in turn, creates a donor/recipient (i.e. linear) conventional connection. During the most recent history of TT in this manner, the underlying assumption was that innovation and adaptation were fundamentally linked. Yet this assumption is more often than not wrong; there are many other non-linear impediments to the successful implementation of new technologies, especially in burgeoning industries.

    At several points during the conference, the triple-helix (and once even the quadruple-helix) was cited as crucial to TT in RE. The triple helix is the combination of life-blood between the public sector, government and academia (with the quadruple helix including civil society). This seems to be a recurring theme in all renewable energy policy debates, and is thus revealing that even in the United Nations political sphere it continues to impede policy goals.

    Errot Levy, Delegation of the EU to the U.S., highlighted the point that it must be more important to focus less on TT and more on impacts for the solutions provided. The point here is that social acceptance and local implementation severely overshadows technology—if locals don’t believe in solar energy because of a past failure, it will be difficult to even donate solar cookers. Finance schemes are utterly crucial to mend this tripartite dilemma.  Horizon 2020, an important financial instrument for such endeavors, spells out concrete ways of doing this.

    The conclusion is that renewable energy technology and innovative financial instruments must be examined in tandem. In the absence of financial instrument capable of smoothing the flow and payment of technologies for developing countries, clustering technology and innovation centers can work. Examples of renewable energy innovation centers are the Portuguese wind energy cluster and Bonn’s (Germany) innovation technology center. In these cities policy goals spelled out ways to integrate business with civil society, government, and academia. The results are quite positive: Whereas Portugal, a poorer EU country, now has some of the most promising wind energy technologies in the world;Germany continues to spearhead its renewable energy policy goals through cutting-edge research from Bonn.


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      Kyle S Herman

      Kyle gained a Masters in International Studies from the University of San Francisco and completed a traineeship at the International Network for Sustainable Energy in Aarhus, Denmark. He then created his own non-profit organization, the Coalition for Renewable Energy, to continue promoting renewable energy policy domestically and abroad. Currently he works for the Council on Global Security and Governance to advise ambassadors to the U.N. on socially responsible investments in developing countries.