Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Cancun delegates discussing "technology transfer" should remember that it's already happening

Much of the media coverage of COP16 has focused on disagreements over the UN-administered fund for mitigation and adaptation in poorer countries. But, writes Gloria Dawson, our policy and research officer, aid money is not the only help that developed countries can give to those already affected by climate change.

In the likely event of a failure to reach a legally binding agreement at Cancun on reducing CO2 emissions, technology transfer is one of the "back door" areas where there may still be significant agreement and progress.

In the context of climate change, technology transfer means nations sharing existing technologies and working together to develop new technologies which help countries adapt to or mitigate climate change. Expertise about wind turbine technology, or plans for solar micro-grids, or techniques for more water- and energy-efficient farming can be adapted from one country to another to meet specific needs.

This knowledge can be transferred directly through the public or private sector by relaxing certain patents or it could be brokered through existing UN mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Technology transfer could also be supported through new international institutions. This is already happening in places, but there is still no formal international agreement to support it.

The Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has said that helping poor nations adapt to the effects of warmer temperatures should be a higher priority than reaching legally binding emissions reduction agreements. Right now in Cancun, delegates are discussing plans for a network of innovation centres to help developing countries. A key role for an international Climate Technology Centre would be identifying the specific needs of individual countries.

States and transnational corporations will always disagree over the degree to which intellectual property can should be shared. The representatives of rich countries often argue that, as most technological innovations are developed, registered and manufactured in developed countries, a relaxation of patents on technology inhibits technological innovation.

But technology transfer is already a large part of what Ashden Award winners do. The winners scale up small sustainable energy projects, by disseminating skills, expertise and technology that make sustainable energy more widespread and effective. Our winners work with governments and the private sector, but they also skill up ordinary people and share their knowledge and innovations as widely as possible.

A good example is Aprovecho Research Centre, an Ashden Award winner in 2006 (with ProBEC, S.Africa) and 2009 (with SSM, China). Aprovecho builds fuel-efficient wood stoves that are appropriate to a wide range of needs. They build relationships with producers of stoves in different countries to create the best stoves that can be produced by local people at low cost.

At their Rocket Stove website, you can see many of these designs, as well as the online tool they have developed to help people design and build their own rocket stove. This is an impressive example of technology transfer in action, devolving knowledge and skills to those who need it, for little or no money.

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