Whatever Happened to Technology Transfer?

By Brianna Craft

 The 17th UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) at Durban this November will not be concluded without a vote for – and, most probably, an extended financial commitment to – Technology Transfer.  Technology Transfer (TT) in the context of the UNFCCC refers to the transfer of environmentally sound technologies to developing countries in the hopes that they achieve two aims.  First, that recipients would use the technologies to leapfrog high greenhouse gas emissions forms of development and pursue cleaner growth strategies than they would be able to enact if left to their own devices.  Second, that recipients might be better equipped to deal with the potentially devastating consequences of a changing climate.

The upcoming Durban negotiations will not only determine the fate of TT, but also will mark how the world as a whole will approach the next climate regime.  The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the only binding international climate change agreement the world has ever known, will end in 2012.  What the new climate regime will entail, whether it be the voluntary “pledge based” approach to emissions reductions proposed in Cancun or a second binding Kyoto commitment period, none can say.  Like the current contention over climate negotiations, the fate of TT remains highly divisive, much sought after, promised, and little enacted.

The Cancun negotiations saw the successful review of the Poznan Strategic Program on TT of 2008, as presented by the Global Environmental Facility.  The Program, which included a number of pilot projects and a funding window of $50 million, spurred the establishment of the Technology Mechanism composed of a Technology Executive Committee and a climate Technology Center & Network at the 16th COP in Cancun last year.  This November in Durban, the Parties must flesh-out the details of the Technology Mechanism’s inner workings – including the potential links between the Technology Mechanism and the financial mechanism – and come to conclusion in order to make the Technology Mechanism fully operational in 2012.

Enter the contention.  Several developing county negotiating blocs have long fought for increased funding and implementation of TT projects, including BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China); Least Developed Countries (LDC); and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).  BASIC’s 7th Ministerial Meeting, which took place in South Africa in May 2011, released a statement declaring the need for the early operationalization of the Technology Executive Committee.  Furthermore, Ministers highlighted the urgent need to support developing countries, which at COP 17 should be reflected in designing effective structures for technology transfer.  Clearly, several important factions of the developing world will call for urgent TT action at Durban by pushing for the speedy mobilization of the structures that support it.

This language calling for the immediate mobilization of TT does not particularly jibe with the weaker “pledge based” approach to climate commitments put on the table in Cancun.  Regardless, the Technology Mechanism will come to the floor for ratification at Durban, with BASIC, LDCs, and SIDS pushing the issue.  Thus, the fate of TT and the Technology Mechanism remains unclear.  Will the Technology Mechanism be ratified at COP 17 and, if so, will it hold the binding financial and implementation commitments necessary to make TT a useful tool for developing countries as they strive to mitigate and adapt to our changing climate or will it, like emissions reductions, be subjugated to the wishy-washiness of merely “pledged” support?

Image: Jaisalmer Wind Project.  TT project from Germany’s Enercon to India.  The farm is capable of generating 115,632 MWh of energy, which avoids the equivalent of 101,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year that would otherwise be emitted by burning fossil fuels.  Photo by the author.

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