15. Technology Transfer and Intellectual Property: A Post-Copenhagen Assessment

1 February 2010

In the lead-up to the Copenhagen climate change meeting, technology transfer was - with emissions reductions and finance - one of the key sticking points. It was hoped that the conference would, at least, spell out elements of a ‘package' that would serve as a basis for further discussions in 2010.

Enhanced action on the development and transfer of technology to support mitigation and adaptation to climate change was one of the building blocks of the Bali Action Plan, but the outcomes of the Copenhagen conference in this area appear meagre. While developed countries made specific announcements in relation to emissions reductions targets and financial pledges, no similar announcements emerged in the area of technology transfer and co-operation.

The word ‘technology' did not even figure in the statement made by President Obama to the plenary session of the meeting. Nor did he mention it in his remarks to the press, where he stated that "...transparency, mitigation and finance form the basis of the common approach that the United States and our partners embraced here in Copenhagen." Sweden, on behalf of the EU, mentioned in general terms that "a system should be established to provide long-term support to developing countries for reducing emissions, adaptation, technology co-operation and transfer." Developing countries, on their part, called on developed countries to honour their commitments and speed up the transfer of climate-friendly technologies.

Ultimately, the Copenhagen Accord establishes a ‘technology mechanism' to accelerate technology development and transfer in support of action on adaptation and mitigation. It further specifies that the mechanism will "be guided by a country-driven approach and be based on national circumstances and priorities" (paragraph 11).

Technology is mentioned in other parts of the accord, such as paragraph 3, which states that "developed countries shall provide adequate, predictable and sustainable financial resources, technology and capacity-building to support the implementation of adaptation action in developing countries." Technology support will also be recorded in a registry along with mitigation actions, finance and capacity-building support (paragraph 5).

For several years, developing countries have been actively demanding an institutional strengthening of the technology transfer ‘pillar' of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. From this perspective, the establishment of the technology mechanism represents a positive development. However, it comes as no surprise since in the lead-up to Copenhagen, key developed country players, such as the EU, had signalled their willingness to support such a measure. While the reference that the mechanism will be guided by a ‘country-driven approach' is welcome, its effective implementation remains a challenge.

Most importantly, countries still need to work out the mandate, structure and organisation of work of this new body, a far more challenging task than the simple decision to create it. Contingent on a clarification of the formal status of the Copenhagen Accord, discussions are likely to resume on the basis of the latest text reached in the context of the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Co-operative Action (AWG-LCA).1

According to the non-bracketed parts in that text, the technology mechanism would consist of a ‘technology executive committee' and a ‘climate technology centre'. The mechanism would support the following actions: facilitate access to affordable and appropriate technologies required by developing countries for enhanced action on adaptation and mitigation; assess the adequacy and predictability of funds for development and transfer of, or access to, environmentally sound technology (EST); remove barriers to technology development and transfer and enhance means to promote technology transfer (bracketed); develop and enhance endogenous capacities of, and technologies in, developing country parties; and capacity-building to enhance the capability of developing country parties for the development and transfer of EST and know-how.

Other important elements of possible future agreement in the AWG-LCA text include the establishment of global and national technology objectives and action plans, the establishment of a network of regional technology and innovation centres, and strengthening national innovation systems in connection with climate-friendly technologies.

For these elements, too, many details need to be sorted out. In this context, there are still valuable lessons to be learned from the experience of existing international partnerships in other public policy areas where technology research and collaboration play an important role.2

Ultimately, negotiators need to ensure that the new global architecture for enhanced transfer of climate change technology is not overly burdensome or bureaucratic and that adequate funding is made available to secure its effective implementation.

Disagreement on IPRs Persist

The Copenhagen Accord does not mention intellectual property rights (IPRs) at all. This is unsurprising since all references to IPRs in the actual negotiating text are bracketed, reflecting the polarisation that has characterised the debate on intellectual property and climate change since the Bali meeting in 2007.

Developing countries have argued that IPRs are an important obstacle for the enhanced transfer of climate-friendly technologies, and vigorous measures are thus required, including the full use of existing WTO flexibilities. Developed countries maintain that IPRs are fundamental for promoting technological innovation and creating incentives for private sector investment in R&D.

This simplistic representation, while possibly convenient for negotiating postures, does not capture the complex role played by IPRs in technology development and transfer.
It also reflects the lack of adequate empirical evidence in this area to achieve better understanding of the issues at hand. Several studies in the past year have sought to bridge this gap.

In this context, UNEP, the European Patent Office (EPO) and ICTSD have joined forces to explore issues around patent ownership and licensing practices in the area of clean technologies, particularly energy generation. Preliminary findings were presented in Copenhagen. The final report of this work should be available by spring 2010 and will hopefully better inform the policy debate.3 Negotiators and different stakeholders should seize the opportunity to analyse the emerging evidence and take it into consideration in their final negotiations.

Seizing the Opportunity
Theoretical and legalistic discussion concerning IP and technology in developing countries, without action and application, does not yield concrete results. As put recently by one observer, “mythologies that have failed should not be repeated, such as the notion that enforcement of IP laws per se promotes innovation (the favoured myth of developed countries) or that ‘technology transfer’ can occur in a one-way flow (the favoured myth of developing countries).”4

Addressing climate change presents the international community with a unique opportunity to re-energise the decades-old discussion on technology transfer and go beyond entrenched beliefs and received wisdom in this area. This calls for innovative approaches, solutions and partnerships.

Ahmed Abdel Latif is Intellectual Property & Technology Programme Manager at ICTSD.


1 (FCCC/AWGLCA/2009/L.7/Add.3)
2 See for instance, Carlos Correa. 2009. Fostering the Development and Diffusion of Technologies for Climate Change: Lessons from the CGIAR Model. ICTSD
3 More information is available at ictsd.org./i/environment/ips/51361
4 Cynthia Cannady. 2009. Access to Climate Change Technology by Developing Countries: A Practical Strategy. ICTSD

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