Ready to go: The Climate Technology Centre and Network takes off

9 June 2014

As the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) kicks off its work, BioRes sat down with Heleen de Coninck, Associate Professor at the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society at Radboud University, and the RINGO representative on the CTCN Advisory Board for the first year of its existence, to discuss the challenges ahead for the body and technology transfer in the global climate talks. This interview was conducted at the end of May.

The UNFCCC Warsaw Conference of the Parties in December 2013 saw a decision on the modalities and procedures of the Climate Technology Centre and Network. Can you tell us a bit more about what this decision will mean?
[Heleen de Coninck] The CTCN only really started to get operational in 2013. How it works in UN processes is you need to fix modalities and procedures to figure out the way that the CTCN is going to do its work. The mandate is pretty clear in the earlier documents, particularly the Cancun Agreements, however as it gets operational you need rules and procedures. The whole approval process was actually quite fast for UN institutions. This is a good sign and Warsaw was an important moment. The work can now get started.

What are the key challenges facing the CTCN on the road ahead?
[HdC] There are a number. First of all, one of the things people ask is “can this make a difference?” Can such a small centre through a large network really make a difference globally? One aspect of this is whether the CTCN can become large enough without becoming a big bureaucracy. And in order to actually get anywhere, a second challenge is to secure finance. A lot has been secured for the first five years, but it remains unclear how things will work moving forward. I think that to guarantee more financial support the CTCN will need to demonstrate success, a key priority on the agenda. Success means: enabling and scaling up climate-friendly technologies in developing countries, and helping build local innovation capabilities – not an easy feat. A third challenge is to build up the network. Everyone is focusing very much on the Climate Technology Centre in Copenhagen, Denmark, but most of the work will be happening throughout the international network. This is supposed to be a huge system of institutions, private and public sector, research, and non-profit groups, which are going to collaborate to create a better enabling environment for the diffusion of climate friendly technologies in countries. If that network is not quickly built up, especially in developing economies, then the CTCN will not be worth much.

A further challenge is clearly outlining the reasons why an institution should join this network. The criteria for network membership have now been established and they are deliberately kept pretty open. How the network will actually work in practice, however, remains a bit unclear. One option would be to just let it grow organically, to see what happens, which might be better than pre-defining how it should grow. 

What role can South-South cooperation play in scaling up technologies for adaptation and mitigation?
[HdC] In terms of South-South cooperation, this is one of the main goals of the CTCN. In my view this whole Technology Mechanism is about building up innovation capabilities in developing countries; capabilities to absorb technology, to improve on technology, to eventually start building and adding value to technology. In that way you get a synergy between economic progress and environmental integrity. In that sense, South-South cooperation is important because you allow for regional collaboration around specific technologies and areas. However, while such cooperation is important, this is not the whole picture. The involvement of Annex I countries is also critical due to the resources, experience, and innovation capabilities they bring.

Given the results of the technology needs assessments, what are the technology needs of developing countries?
[HdC]  There was a synthesis report published where 31 technology needs assessments [TNAs] were extensively discussed. While needs are clearly going to be different in every country, there were some commonalities. Many countries mentioned the energy sector and renewable energy, and also transportation. In the field of adaptation there was a focus on technologies in relation to agriculture. But in my opinion technology needs also involve a broader scope than a list of technologies that would be useful. You also need to consider what kinds of skills and organisational or institutional aspects you need in order to bring those technologies to the market, or make accessible to users. This is something that the synthesis report is not very clear about. The assessment on barriers to technology transfer also seem a bit limited; they give a partial picture. So for example, countries mention economic and financial barriers, but that does not give you a detailed view of technology needs and especially responses. For example, what kinds of support would be helpful, what kinds of changes, and transformations, and how do you do that in countries? I think there are still many questions that are left unanswered in that space. In that sense the TNAs are really the start of a process towards a better idea on what kinds of interventions you could do as an international community in the different countries, with their approval and buy-in, to help them move forward in this area.

What areas specifically might need to be addressed at the multilateral trade level to enhance relevant adaptation and mitigation technology transfer?
[HdC]  I’m not a trade expert by any means, but it seems to me as an outsider that trade can help technology transfer. But there are also areas where trade and technology transfer can contradict and create conflict. Trade is neutral, based on markets, helped by rules. If you look at the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism, what happened there in terms of markets is that projects went to countries that were already pretty well-placed to implement mitigation technologies. I think in the technology transfer debate, we’re trying to make technologies go to places where the enabling environment isn’t so good, which is important to remember when looking from a market perspective.

What are the medium to long-term challenges that lie ahead in this area, and how do you see the UNFCCC talks moving forward?
[HdC]  Speaking very frankly, it is on the agenda of developing countries to build innovation capabilities in their countries, but countries like the US, or even Europe, this might be threatening. They might be hesitant to help their future competitors. So there’s a rather fundamental contradiction here. My sense is that this is not spoken about much in the negotiations, even though it may be one of the underlying reasons why some of the discussions around technology transfer have moved so slowly, especially before the Technology Mechanism was started. Previously in the climate negotiations the agenda item was stuck for 15 years or so. The reason for this is that in the UNFCCC it is stated very clearly that developed countries should help developing countries with technology transfer. Broadly speaking, poor countries feel this promise has not been filled, but then rich countries say that the lack of proper markets in these countries is a real barrier to making technology transfer happen. Bridging these mentalities is another long-term challenge, but I am not sure what the right strategy might be. Perhaps focusing on innovation capabilities in least developed countries and not in countries such as China or Singapore?

On the UNFCCC talks, first everyone is looking at the UN summit in September, then to the Paris Conference of the Parties next year. I have the feeling that there are still more possibilities than those that are currently explored in the negotiations, which are still very much focused on whether it is legally binding, pledges, emissions reductions targets, etc., I think that if the discussion would shift more into the enabling sphere, and maybe focus on sectors or technologies, there’s hope there.


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