Climate Technology Meeting Highlights Developed-Developing Country Divide

14 November 2008

Traditional differences between developed and developing countries in current climate change negotiations resurfaced at the recent High-level Conference on Climate Change Technology Development and Technology Transfer in Beijing, China.

The 7-8 November conference took place against the backdrop of the global financial crises and the potential chilling effect it will bring with regard to investment in the area of climate change, as well as the recent US presidential election of Barack Obama, who is widely expected to usher in a more progressive climate agenda in the US. Co-organised by the UN Division of Social and Economic Affairs and the National Development and Reform Commission of China, the meeting focussed on the key role and potential of technology in the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. The conference also looked at ways to devise a legal and institutional framework on the development and transfer of technology as part of a future global agreement on climate change.

Discussions over the two-day conference took place under three parallel tracks. The first focussed on the status of technology transfer, obstacles to implementation, and best practices. The second track looked at potential mechanisms for overcoming technology transfer barriers and obstacles. Finally, the third track looked at the possible roles and collaboration between the public and private sectors.

Ministers and other delegates agreed, in general, that the development and transfer of technology from developed countries to developing countries is an essential requirement for the international community if it wants to succeed in addressing climate change.

China calls on developed countries to take the lead

Developing countries, starting with a speech from Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, reiterated their calls for developed countries to take a leading role in ensuring effective transfer of technology to developing countries, through necessary fiscal and tax measures and enhanced policy guidance and incentives. Wen restated China’s position that the burden of responsibility for reducing emissions should be upon developed countries.

"It took developed countries several decades to solve the problems of saving energy and cutting emissions, while China has to solve the same problem in a much shorter period. So the difficulty is unprecedented,” the Chinese premier said at the conference. “Developed countries shoulder the duty and responsibility to tackle climate change and should alter their unsustainable lifestyle.”

The international press have widely interpreted Wen’s comments as a new, hard-line stance on the issue. Indeed, the victory of Barack Obama in the US election earlier in the week had several media outlets speculating that China would be pressing harder for the future Obama administration to take a more active role in addressing climate change issues. However, others have dismissed this as media hype, insisting that China’s position on the issue has not noticeably changed. Nevertheless, it is clear that many now expect the future US administration to alter the course of climate change policy from that seen under the Republicans (see related article, this issue).

High expectations for Obama on road to Copenhagen

The role of the US on the road to the December 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen will be watched closely by observers. Participants at the conference acknowledged that public funding from developed countries should be the main financial source of any future technology transfer mechanism. And securing US funding for this purpose from a more sympathetic government will undoubtedly play a prominent role in future negotiations.

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), underscored this expectation for a shift under the new administration. “With President-elect Obama, my hope is that the US can take on a leadership role and help to move the negotiations forward,” de Boer said at the conference.

Countries remain split on IP issues

De Boer also outlined five key technology areas that would need to be part of an agreed outcome in Copenhagen: a new technology mechanism to realise the full potential of technologies; increased private sector involvement; research and development and commercialisation; diffusion and transfer of technologies, including the development of measurable, reportable and verifiable indicators; and, finally, intellectual property (IP)-related issues to reward innovation and foster private investment and deployment of technologies around the world.

Intellectual property and transfer of climate change technology played a prominent role in discussions, with two dominant perspectives emerging. Developing countries – in particular India – suggest that IP is a major barrier to accessing required climate change mitigating technologies. However, developed countries refute this, saying that IP protection is not a barrier but rather a driver of innovation that can develop many of the technologies that will be needed to address climate change.

Differentiation amongst developing countries

Another theme addressed both formally and informally at the conference was the understanding that developing countries cannot be treated uniformly under a future climate change agreement. “Mali is not China, and Ethiopia is not Saudi Arabia,” said Connie Hedegaard, Denmark’s Minister of Climate and Energy.

This issue of differentiation – which was formally put on the table this past August at the UN Climate Talks in Accra, Ghana (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 5 September 2008 – further underscores the split between developed and developing countries in current talks on climate change.

Developed countries want to see further differentiation amongst developing countries, based on their varied levels of emissions and their capacity to contribute to mitigation efforts. However, more industrialised developing countries are resistant to the move as it could increase their burden of responsibility under a future plan.

In response to the Danish Minister’s aforementioned comments, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa’s Minister of Environment and Tourism, responded strongly that developing countries would resist any attempt to categorise them into different groupings. The objective of the current negotiations is to advance international cooperative action on climate change, as outlined in the Bali Action Plan, not to renegotiate the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, van Schalkwyk remarked.

Ministers and delegates are now preparing for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP-14), which will take place from 1-12 December in Poznań, Poland.

Additional Resources

The Beijing Statement can be found here:

ICTSD Reporting; “Beijing advises west to step up climate efforts,” FINANCIAL TIMES, 8 November 2008; “China tells rich polluting nations to change lifestyle,” REUTERS, 7 November 2008; “China tells rich states to change,” BBC NEWS, 7 November 2008.

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