Technology Deployment and Transfer: No ‘silver bullet'

7 December 2010

CANCUN, MEXICO - I start the day by rushing to the other side of town to attend a dialogue on ‘technology deployment' organised by a business organisation. It takes 40 min minutes to get there but luckily the traffic is fluid so I arrive on time. Discussions start on how to accelerate technology deployment.

The group quickly runs into the main challenge facing the technology issue in the climate negotiations: solutions are country and sector specific and it is difficult to devise a ‘one size fits all approach' to address many different situations. Inevitably, it comes out that there is no one ‘silver bullet' solution. However, there is quick agreement on the most recurrent problems facing technology deployment: lack of financing, of enabling policies at the country level and in particular adequate incentives, as well as lack of access to relevant technological information.

One speaker points to difficulties facing countries in making ‘informed choices' and in getting ‘neutral advice' about which renewable energy technologies to use as they are confronted to different industries promoting their technology (wind, solar, CCS, etc.) as the 'solution'.

I underline that, in the case of developing countries, many of them tend to turn to international bodies, such as UNFCCC, for ‘neutral' advice and that precisely one of the functions of the new Technology Mechanism discussed at Cancun is to provide such advice to countries. I suggest that business and the private sector could look into their possible contribution to the new technology transfer architecture emerging from the climate talks in particular the Technology Mechanism and the Climate Technology Centre and Network as there is still scope to still influence their design and precise responsibilities. However, I sense that many private sector representatives are not following closely these developments on the negotiations front and are quite sceptical about the ability of the UNFCCC to play an effective role in this area.

I leave thinking that ICTSD, with its focus on global negotiations and its work on climate technology, could possibly help foster a more meaningful engagement from the private sector in the relevant policy discussions on technology at the UNFCCC.

I head back to the Cancunmesse, where the side events are held, to attend the one organised by the United Nations, under One UN, at 13h30, with a number of heads of UN agencies and programmes (UNFCCC, UNEP, UNIDO, WMO, UNDP) and ministers of environment from Norway, Chile, Indonesia and Mauritius. They are later joined by Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary General. The room is packed and I have trouble finding a seat.

Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC Executive Secretary gives an update on the negotiations and indicates that decisions are moving forward. There is a "deal to be done in Cancun" she adds pointing that it is "time to go beyond national positions". She emphasised that the UN can play a big role in "shifting the development paradigm" towards green growth and that "instead of analysing sustainable development", which has been sufficiently done, the UN should give concrete examples about how countries can pursue green growth and help them in this regard.

Ban Ki Moon calls countries to ‘lock in' progress achieved in several areas such as deforestation, adaptation, technology and financing and not to seek perfection as "perfect should not be the enemy of good."

All speakers agree that choosing between 'green growth' and 'poverty' is a 'false dilemma' as poverty makes people more vulnerable to climate change. So the central question is how can each developing country devise its own path to clean energy? Again, no ‘silver bullet' it the response here too. Needs and capabilities vary considerably across countries and the circumstances of each country need to be taken into consideration.

I leave the side event thinking about the enormity of the challenge facing the UN in moving from an agreed diagnosis of the problem to effective solutions. Addressing the climate challenge requires a ‘holistic' response and the UN, with its compartmentalised set of agencies and programmes, might not seem ideally equipped to deal with it. So maybe combating climate change is a true opportunity for the UN to finally ‘deliver as one'.

I head to the ICTSD stand as it is my turn to respond to enquiries from visitors. It is heartening to see the appreciation by many of the ICTSD publications on display and our activities and also to meet people with interests in different aspects of our work.

After two hours at the ICTSD stand, I head to the last side event I am attending today on ‘successful technology transfer partnerships' at 18h30. It is organised by WIPO includes speakers from UNEP, UNIDO, ITU, World Bank, GEF, WTO and a private sector representative.

Many interesting presentations about current initiatives and programmes for the transfer of climate change technologies such as the UNIDO ‘cleaner production centres' and the new infodev climate innovation centres. I ask a question about the cost of such centres and how they will ‘fit' within the new technology architecture emerging from climate negotiations.

Interestingly, approaches to technology transfer and definitions presented vary between speakers. Asked about what he considers to be technology transfer, the private sector representative gives a definition that calls my attention. He considers it: "transfer of knowhow with the object of using it independently".

The WIPO official moderating the meeting points out that although WIPO is the convener, intellectual property did not feature in any of the interventions by the speakers. This to show – he adds - that intellectual property is just a tool and that the ultimate goal is technology transfer and diffusion.

Though I don’t necessarily disagree, does this mean that the role of intellectual property rights in transfer of climate change technologies shouldn’t be discussed at all? An intelligent discussion on intellectual property and transfer of climate change technologies is possible but it needs to be based on reliable evidence and not rhetoric. This is the approach that ICTSD has been consistently following in tackling this complex issue in particular through its joint report with UNEP and the European Patent Office (EPO) on Patents and Clean Energy (available online at

After the end of the side event, I leave thinking about the considerable amount of work that ICTSD has done on technology transfer and about its possible future contribution to the debate on this issue particularly in view of the possible agreement to establish a new Technology Mechanism under UNFCCC at Cancun.

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