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From Copenhagen to Cancun: Technology Transfer

An update on UNFCCC efforts to promote technology transfer between countries.

The UNFCCC climate negotiations are often so fraught with entrenched disagreement that success stories seem rare. However, technology transfer is one area in which definitive progress was made in Copenhagen and throughout negotiations in 2010, progress that should lead into a decision on technology in Cancun.

What is Technology Transfer?

In the context of climate change, “technology transfer” refers to how technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and aid climate adaptation efforts are developed and shared across borders. Developing countries will need more than finance to address climate change – they will need new technology for mitigation (emissions reductions), such as wind power, and new technologies for adaptation, such as flood control technologies and drought resistant strains of corn and wheat.

Because technology transfer will facilitate global emissions reductions, it is considered key to reaching a global agreement. The Bali Action Plan, a decision made at the UNFCCC meeting in 2007 called for strengthened efforts to move technologies from developed to developing countries.

Progress From Copenhagen to Cancun

In the early days of Copenhagen negotiations, country representatives made progress on the technology transfer text. By the end of the first week, negotiators appeared close to agreeing that a new international mechanism for development and transfer of technology should be created.

This mechanism would have two parts – a Technology Executive Committee made up of politically appointed country representatives that would provide coordination, and a Climate Technology Center made up of technical experts that could lead capacity-building in countries that need it. This carefully negotiated plan represented a smart compromise between the need for a political body to provide guidance and coordination and a more down-to-earth mechanism with technical experts than can implement solutions.

Heads of state arrived late in the second week and switched gears to drafting the Copenhagen Accord. The Accord contains a decision “to establish a Technology Mechanism to accelerate technology development and transfer in support of action on adaptation and mitigation”, but didn’t specify in detail how that mechanism would work.

Since Copenhagen, negotiators have continued to make progress on the mechanism, including the composition and mandate of the Technology Executive Committee and Climate Technology Centre and Network.

In Cancun, negotiators should finalize the text started in Copenhagen and formalize it in a UNFCCC decision to create a technology mechanism, which would kickstart the Committee and Centre’s work. Technology is an issue that can provide momentum towards a successful global agreement.

Creating an effective technology center and network

A core element of the technology mechanism in the negotiating text now is a network, headed by the Climate Technology Centre. The network is meant to be both an ‘on-the-ground’ presence of the technology mechanism and a way for existing research, knowledge sharing and capacity building institutions to connect to the UNFCCC. In order to best build a technology network that will help countries develop and share new technologies, it’s not enough to repurpose existing institutions that work on the issue, because not all regions and technologies are getting adequate attention right now. The negotiators should consider whether additional effort or new centers are needed to help fill gaps.

To identify the needs, the Climate Technology Centre should be tasked with analyzing gaps in research, knowledge sharing, capacity-building on policy support on adaptation and mitigation, and identifying where new centers may be needed.

Linking finance and technology

In the negotiations thus far, it is unclear how a financial mechanism (which is negotiated separately) would mesh institutionally with the technology mechanism. Would the activities undertaken within the technology mechanism automatically be funded by the financial mechanism? Would the technology mechanism have the possibility to provide input for the financial mechanism’s funding decisions related to technologies?

As the finance mechanism, including a new fund, takes shape, it’s important that the new institutional structure and procedures allow for smart technology decisions. The new finance mechanism should allow for input from the technology mechanism, so the technology experts can help inform the finance experts on where the biggest impacts can be made with the limited resources. These experts can also provide guidance on how to hold the financial mechanism accountable and report technology successes that can inform future funding decisions.

Intellectual property rights shouldn't hold up the deal

On the issue of intellectual property rights (IPR), such as patents, countries continue to disagree on how openly technologies should be shared.

This disagreement should not hold up the important decision of creating the technology mechanism. IPR may be best left to future negotiations in the UNFCCC or other fora.

No time to wait

A decision in Cancun to create a strong technology mechanism with an effective Committee and Centre / Network will build momentum in the greater negotiations. More importantly, it will begin the transfer of crucially needed technologies truly enable low-carbon, climate-resilient development.

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