Briefings

Technology Cooperation – More Than Just a North-South Deal

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Technology Cooperation – More Than Just a North-South Deal

To achieve a successful outcome in Copenhagen there is an urgent need for negotiators to focus on cooperative action around innovation, rather than narrow trade-offs between the North and South.

As negotiations progress, discussions are increasingly moving to a blinkered debate on the level of financial and technology transfers. This debate is often based on an outdated model which assumes technology will be ‘generated’ in the North and then ‘transferred’ to the South. Continuing on this path will undermine our efforts to prevent dangerous climate change and will limit the scope for agreement in Copenhagen.

"… there will need to be a step change in the scale and depth of international strategic cooperation to drive the development of key technologies.”

The purpose of the Convention is to drive cooperation to prevent dangerous climate change, not just to focus on perceived trade-offs between developed and developing countries. Limiting global CO2 emissions to levels consistent with 2degreesC rise in temperature will take a step-change in global innovation and diffusion to make a zero-carbon energy economy feasible before 2050. Underlying the emissions reduction trajectories produced by the UNFCCC and IEA are aggressive assumptions on the early commercialisation of key technologies such as carbon capture and storage, new biofuels, high penetration renewables, electric vehicles and low carbon cement and steel production. If some major emission reduction policies fail, or markedly underperform, then more low carbon technology options will be needed earlier than predicted to keep on track. Similarly if climate science continues to worsen, suggesting impacts are occurring faster than we previously thought, we will have to deliver new innovations sooner than is currently anticipated, including those relevant for adaptation.

This innovation is not yet happening. The EU is calling for a quadrupling of global R&D spending, but money alone is not enough. Currently, innovation spending in all countries is driven by support for national champions and competitiveness. Collaboration has been reserved for basic science and far from commercial projects such as nuclear fusion. To deliver low carbon technologies there will need to be a step change in the scale and depth of international strategic cooperation to drive the development of key technologies.

The framing of the technology debate based on an ‘ask’ and then ‘response’ between developed and developing countries has generated a large amount of distrust and is not a reflection of the way innovation systems currently operate.

"The agreement at Copenhagen should therefore contain a science based Technology Development Objective, … delivered through a series of Technology Action Programmes for strategically important technologies, … [and a] pragmatic agreement on a framework for intellectual property rights to protect and share new technologies”

In a globalized world innovation is increasingly driven by partnerships which spread across national boundaries; General Electric is a US company who has some of its major research labs in Germany, India and China. Effective action is required to create a system that builds and leverages these partnerships and which takes and manages risks to develop new disruptive technologies; encourages innovations in business models and supporting infrastructure; and allows for the rapid diffusion of new ideas and technologies after they are developed.

To deliver this developed and developing countries alike should focus on delivering overall levels of innovation cooperation, not simply the level of transfers and conditionality. The agreement at Copenhagen should therefore contain a science based Technology Development Objective, which sets an overall goal for increased climate and adaptation innovation. This Objective should be delivered through a series of Technology Action Programmes for strategically important technologies, with an emphasis on those with a key role in developing country markets, and new multilateral and bilateral funding to build developing countries’ own capacity to innovate.

The multilateral funding should be directed by an arms length Technology Development Executive under the UNFCCC to build public and private partnerships across a range of different countries, including opportunities for South-South cooperation. A pragmatic agreement on a framework for intellectual property rights to protect and share new technologies while maintaining incentives for innovation will be critical. Such a system would help to fully capture the global public good aspects of climate and adaptation technologies, foster trust and provide opportunities for all parties to benefit from an increased global market for climate innovations.

Copenhagen must deliver a new global low carbon innovation system which benefits all countries and hedges against future policy failures and any necessary tightening of emission reduction targets. These commitments will need to drive much greater cooperation among all countries – whether developed or developing. By focusing on the common knowledge and innovations we need to build together to preserve our common climate security, the negotiations may begin to escape from the narrow focus on transfers which destroys trust and lowers ambition on all sides.

This article was written for host country website for COP15.

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