Friday, November 17, 2006

Technology transfer

Rob Bradley
Nov 14, 8:28 AM

Few negotiating groups are expecting big results in Nairobi, but some gather with a particular lack of sparkle. It's been well over a decade that we've been negotiating international climate agreements, and there are some issues that have remained essentially unchanged. Today we will take you inside one of these perpetually-deadlocked debates. You're welcome.

No-one would dispute that technology transfer is important in fighting climate change: indeed, developing and deploying clean technologies is really what climate policy is about. But there is little common understanding of what really drives technology deployment in different countries.

Take the group of 134 developing countries known as the G77 and China. We don't have the money to spend on your fancy technology, they say. Cancel the intellectual property rights on all the technology, and we'll make it ourselves. Or set up a large fund to buy the patents and send it over.

But, reply the rich countries, that's not how it works. The intellectual property doesn't belong to us, but to companies in the private sector. The best way to ensure that you get new and efficient technologies is to create what we call "enabling environments," meaning removing trade barriers, reducing corruption and perverse regulation, and creating a good investment climate. In the absence of these measures a fund would be simply wasted money, and we'd prefer not to do that.

Oh come on, say the G77 & China, governments call the shots and control the private sector, and if you really wanted to you could share the patents. And telling us that all will be well if we completely fix our economies and institutions is not massively helpful in the near term.

And so on. Year after year developing countries focus on the removal of intellectual property protections and the creation of a new fund. Rich countries decline, and frame broad intentions to help create enabling environments. In the meantime the issue is punted to a working group to consider the options.

At the moment that working group is known as the Expert Group on Technology Transfer. The developing countries are proposing a new group with greater scope to call panels of experts and make strong policy recommendations. Since progress on funds or intellectual property seem out of the question, the scope of a final deal might include the substitution of one arcane body by another. In the meantime, emissions trading, the clean development mechanism and national policies and measures will have to achieve what the negotiators can only talk about.



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