Progress and upcoming challenges: Defining the Technology framework of the Paris Agreement at the COP 23

The 2017 UN Framework Conference on Climate Change—Conference of Parties (COP 23)—was commonly considered a more “technical” COP with respect to the landmark COP 21, which resulted in the Paris Agreement (PA).  The importance of the COP 23 lay in the Parties formulating the “rulebook” for the successful implementation of the several mechanisms established in the PA.  Specifically, the Technology framework under Article 10, paragraph 4, of the PA aims to enhance “technology development and transfer in order to improve resilience to climate change and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”1

During COP 23, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) held informal consultations for the Parties to define the fundamental principles and structure of the PA Technology framework.  Progress during deliberations resulted in the definition of five key themes: innovation, implementation, enabling environment and capacity-building, collaboration and stakeholder engagement, and support.  A common element across the five key themes was the need to engage the private sector in the processes of technology development and transfer to developing countries.

Incentivizing the private sector to widely disseminate their cutting-edge climate technologies would require Parties to agree on a common Intellectual Property Right (IPR) framework.  Such IPR framework should be able to addresses the concerns of both technology providers and receptors.  However, the historically difficult—and still ongoing—negotiations between industrialized and developing countries have demonstrated it is not an easy task.  While the former advocate for stringent patent laws to protect their IPRs in the countries adopting their technologies, the later request for a more flexible IPR framework and increased financial support for the licensing of otherwise costly technologies.2

technologies.png
The Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) supports developing countries for their Technology Needs Assessments, which allow them to define their Technology Action Plans. Left: Rainwater harvesting from greenhouse tops in Lebanon. Right: Energy efficiency and renewable energy in Mongolia. (source: http://unfccc.int/ttclear/projects)

Regarding GHG mitigation, cutting-edge low-carbon technologies (LCTs) are still mostly developed and deployed by industrialized nations;3,4 even though, emerging economies are the ones expected to contribute the most to future GHG emissions. Achieving a more sustainable economic growth in developing countries—in contrast to developed countries in the past—require them to have access to patented LCTs. Arguments favoring both strong and weak IPRs regimes will certainly make north-south technology transfer a controversial topic during upcoming negotiations. Supporters of strong IPRs argue they incentivize innovation and R&D investment, hence, the transfer of more advanced technologies.4 On the other hand, weak IPRs are claimed to allow accelerated deployment in developing countries due to inexpensive technology replication, increased competition and—consequently—lower prices.4 Beyond this controversy, Parties are aware that escalating carbon emissions require accelerated global deployment of highly efficient mitigation technologies.

Although challenging, the UNFCCC negotiations on the PA Technology framework also provide opportunities for reaching consensus on approaches to enhance the international transfer of cutting-edge climate technologies. Upcoming negotiations should aim to develop a Technology framework able to fairly compensate and stimulate innovation while reducing access barriers to technology transfer for developing countries. With that purpose in mind, Parties have already included stakeholder engagement as one of the fundamental principles of the Technology framework. However, COP 23 was a missed opportunity for active participation of technology stakeholders during the negotiations—as they were in Bonn, but their role as observers was limited. Hopefully, the increasingly openness of the UNFCCC process to non-Parties will enable a more active stakeholder participation in the finalization of the PA Technology framework during the COP 24 negotiations.

TEC
The Technology Executive Committee (TEC)—i.e., the policy arm of the UNFCCC Technology Mechanism—already has experience engaging with stakeholders through several participatory mechanisms. (source: http://unfccc.int/ttclear/tec)

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  1. UNFCCC. Paris Agreement.; 2015:32. doi:FCCC/CP/2015/L.9/Rev.1.
  2. Glachant M, Dechezleprêtre A. What role for climate negotiations on technology transfer? Clim Policy. 2017;17(8):962-981.
  3. Fu X, Zhang J. Technology transfer, indigenous innovation and leapfrogging in green technology: the solar-PV industry in China and India. J Chinese Econ Bus Stud. 2011;9(4):329-347.
  4. Rai V, Funkhouser E. Emerging insights on the dynamic drivers of international low-carbon technology transfer. Renew Sustain Energy Rev. 2015;49:350-364.

 

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