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A Positive Vision for the UNFCCC Technology Executive Committee

This post was written with Heleen de Coninck, Programme Manager at the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands. It was originally published on the Climate & Development Knowledge Network.

On February 15-17, the UNFCCC Technology Executive Committee (TEC) held its second meeting. On May 28-29, it will meet again. The TEC is informally called the “policy arm” of the UNFCCC Technology Mechanism, which aims to enhance climate technology development and transfer for mitigation and adaptation. Despite its importance, the TEC has not been much discussed or studied. In this blog, two followers of the UNFCCC technology negotiations give their views on how the TEC can make a difference for addressing climate change. In the coming months, the Technology Executive Committee (TEC), a group of 20 technology experts and climate change negotiators representing both Annex I and non-Annex I countries which is part of the UNFCCC Technology Mechanism, has an opportunity to set out a workplan to tackle the toughest technology challenges related to climate change. While the UNFCCC negotiations focus on targets, timetables, legal form, and financial mechanisms, the workhorse in climate issues is technology development, deployment, and transfer. Technology will make it possible to meet targets and timetables without sacrificing other economic priorities. Without accelerated technology development and transfer, achieving the Convention's goals for cutting emissions and preparing for impacts will be impossible. Thus, we all have a stake in the success of the Technology Mechanism and what is informally called its “policy arm”, the TEC.

Watch a video interview of Letha Tawney discussing the UNFCCC Technology Mechanism below:

Asking the Right Questions

In mid-February, the TEC met for the second time in Bonn, Germany and began setting its workplan for the next two years. With goals already established through TEC's mandate, the challenge becomes translating them into actionable, achievable tasks that add value to technology development and transfer.

Against this backdrop, it was heartening to see the TEC's members thoughtfully and openly engage on the workplan. It is particularly difficult to move from mandate to action in such a crowded field. Innumerable UN agencies, networks, NGOs, and consultants also work on technology development and transfer issues. Ensuring the TEC avoids duplication and contributes effectively is critical.

A Vision for the TEC

Despite this crowded space, much remains to be done and the TEC has a role to play. From the perspective of policy researchers who have spent years working on this issue, we would be thrilled if the TEC undertook to:

  • Be ambassadors for the role of technology in aligning national interests and climate goals. The opportunity in technology development and deployment is understood academically but has little impact on the larger climate negotiations, which quickly become locked into a zero-sum dispute over resources. The TEC members should be ambassadors to the Conference of the Parties about the role technology plays in sustainable economic progress, increased resilience, emissions reductions, and employment. Technology cannot solve all the problems raised by climate change, but it does provide a path toward sustainably raising living standards around the world.

  • Focus on non-Annex I innovations. The simplistic view of technology transfer as “North-South” has seized much of the technology discussion in the UNFCCC, despite the success of ‘South-South’ and ‘Triangular’ cooperation. While technology transfer from Annex I to non-Annex I countries will always be important, this misses the innovations emerging throughout developing countries. The TEC should focus on making sure that the Technology Mechanism ensures ongoing innovation from developing countries.

  • Promote technology as a means to empower. Any emerging economy needs to develop capabilities to handle technology. The challenge is helping non-Annex I countries, under pressure to develop quickly, to adopt practices and processes that support sustainable technology. For example, by the time carbon price incentives emerge, engineers will have already been educated to operate coal plants rather than concentrating solar power facilities, and to drill for fossil fuels rather than for geothermal resources. Through the Climate Technology Centre and Network, the TEC can help provide capabilities to handle the new technology needed for a low-carbon climate resilient world.

Looking Forward

The TEC came close to adopting a workplan in February, but there is still room to shape the tasks for 2012-2013. The mandate leaves latitude for where exactly the TEC might focus its limited resources and attention. If the TEC can take into account the recommendations outlined above, it can have a positive impact on both the UNFCCC negotiations and on climate technology development and transfer globally.

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