IP Issues on Back Burner in Durban as Week One Comes to a Close

3 December 2011

By Daniella Allam

With COP17 well underway in Durban, delegates are hard at work on a plethora of issues, with the Kyoto Protocol at the forefront of it all. But while the future of the Kyoto Protocol has generated an unmistakable buzz in the talks so far, other issues have been slowly playing out in the in the shadows.

Technology transfer is one of those issues that has seen some attention in negotiations this week, but, unfortunately, intellectual property issues as a whole appear to be left on the backburner thusfar.

By now it is common knowledge that effectively addressing climate change - especially in developing countries - requires access to innovative and inexpensive technologies. But negotiators seem to have forgotten that these technologies are more often than not protected by intellectual property (IP) rules that govern the way they can be transferred, particularly to developing countries.

Technology talks slowly moving ahead; some issues remain

Last year's Cancun Agreements established a Technology Mechanism intended "to facilitate the implementation of enhanced action on technology development and transfer in order to support action on mitigation and adaptation to climate change."

To date, however, the relationship between the two elements of the mechanism - the Technology Executive Committee (TEC) and the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) - remains unclear. The hope for Durban was that this issue would be resolved, but talks are moving too slowly to tell.

This week, developing countries, the G77, and others expressed a desire to have a clear mention of the link between the TEC and the CTCN in a decision currently being drafted at a COP contact group on the TEC. The United States, on the other hand, unsurprisingly proposed that the CTCN not be mentioned.

This decision - based on a report presented by TEC Chair Gabriel Blanco - will also combine inputs from the COP's subsidiary bodies, the SBI and the SBSTA as well as the AWG-LCA contact group on technology development and transfer.

But none of these will be fully operational until the financing issue is resolved.  Talks on financing, and the Green Climate Fund in particular, are still unripe at the moment.

Financing and the relationship between the TEC and the CTCN are therefore the key technology issues on the table and the ones that could make or break any decision made next week.

UNEP and UNEP Risoe Centre this week hosted an excellent side event on a Technology Needs Assessments (TNAs) project they have been working on. The event provided valuable insights on identifying the barriers hindering the acquisition, deployment and diffusion of technologies.

But the biggest lesson of the night was during a presentation by Eric Usher from UNEP on the large gap in early stage financing for clean technologies. He noted that "as opposed to other start up businesses, very few financiers invest in clean technologies before financial close." Bridging this gap, he said, is crucial.

Future of IP in negotiations uncertain

While so many of the issues at play in Durban are intricately tied to intellectual property and the barriers it can create, IP has been conspicuously left out of the discussions. Even India, who submitted a proposal to discuss intellectual property rights in Durban, is apparently considering dropping the issue in the negotiations in favour of advancing talks on equity.

Most countries appear reluctant to bring up the issue at all, perhaps out of a fear that the only way to do it is in extreme terms (i.e., stronger IP or no IP at all).

In that sense, the negotiations at Durban leave something to be desired. But can delegates really do much more? Admittedly there are a lot of issues already on the table, and bringing IP into the mix would complicate things even more. Not to mention that there are other more pressing and anxiety-inducing things to talk about during this COP.

But there is no doubt that in order to effectively address issues of technology and innovation, negotiators are going to have to come to terms with the fact that IP is important and not just a leveraging tool. It is one of, if not the primary mechanism for encouraging investment in the development of adaptation and mitigation technologies.  And these technologies are after all what developing countries need.

As South Africa's Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor said at a side-event on Wednesday, "We want the latest technology, not the old stuff...We want iPad 3 type of technologies - not iPad 1".

ICTSD has released a new publication on the issue entitled "Overcoming the Impasse on Intellectual Property and Climate Change at UNFCCC: A Way Forward". Download it here

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