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Is technology transfer for Northern corporations or Southern countries?

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I am still in the Bella Centre, still tracking technology negotiations.  That means I have a magical “secondary pass” unlike thousands of other NGOs who cannot get into the building today. Technology is supposed to be the “easy issue”, on which there will possibly be an agreement, evoked by both the Danish Presidency and the unfccc head Yvo de Boer as the most rapidly progressing item.

When I left at midnight last night, the technology text was four pages long (and was in the secret category that NGOs could only access if a government delegate gave it to them) — down from 30 that we had seen at the start of the Copenhagen summit.  That could be read as progress, except in fact the paper said virtually nothing.   It created three new levels of bureaucracy but their mandates were hopeless vague and did not have enough to please either those who want to export their technology nor those who want to access it.

This morning the text is 12 pages and all the contentious stuff is back in.   Top of the list on contentious items is intellectual property protection. That is the core issue when it comes to technology transfer.  Its a sad statement on these negotiations that exhausted delegates are all up in the middle of the night negotiating meaningless language on the technologies that could play an important role in the fight against climate change.  ”Could” is important — not will and even sadder is the notion that these governments will not put in place any mechanism whatsoever to evaluate whether or not a particular technology is worthy of support.

One would think that in a global meeting such as this, discussions about technology transfer would be about the … um… transfer of the technologies that developing countries need to adapt to and mitigate climate change.   Not so.   Rather, the various institutions that have been set up under theunfccc have more to do with the interests of businesses in oecd countries in expanding markets for new  (and existing) technologies and getting public support for them than they do with the actual needs of developing countries.  That orientation is liable to be reinforced if anything at all gets agreed at this meeting.

The discussion on technology development and transfer is really about the expanding markets for ill-defined “environmentally sound technologies” — which many people in this forum expect will save us from climate change.  Of course, as the experience of biofuels has shown – amongst others — so-called “environmentally sound technologies” can sometimes do more harm than good.  At the beginning of the Copenhagen talks, about 200 organizations called for the inclusion of “assessment” of social and environmental impacts of technologies in the cycle of “research, development, demonstration, deployment, diffusion, transfer” in a common declaration called “Let’s Look Before We Leap“. This ad-hoc coalition also called for real civil society input and the participation of Indigenous peoples and local communities that could be affected by these new technologies that would receive institutional, political and financial support from a new deal to be signed in Copenhagen.  Such precautionary assessment is nowhere to be found in the current working drafts.  And the failure to assess what technologies are supported could prove costly to us all.

So how do things really work in the world of climate-friendly technology transfer? Take for example, the “technology needs assessments” which are targeted for support.  One would expect these to be assessments by developing countries of their technological needs – perhaps a study into what would be the appropriate balance between wind and solar energy, or a structured plan to get certain parts of the country on electrical grids, or early warning systems for extreme weather events. Not at all. The publication that the unfccc has developed to show how “technology needs assessments” should be done is basically a training manual for business on how to attract investment capital and expand  markets. The manual itself came out of two workshops, held in Montreal and Bonn, in collaboration with the private sector and the Climate Technology Initiative — a body created under the International Energy Agency to implement technology transfer agreements, whose members are allfrom the oecd!  g77 and China have been fighting for “country-driven” policies in the technology text but all the institutions devoted to technology seem to be entirely driven by the needs of business and those with the expertise and the implementation mandates are based in the North.  Last night, developing countries stayed up late putting interesting language on the sharing of intellectual property rights back in the text  – basically trying one last time to get important climate-related technologies  in the public domain.

The new text guts the old structures such as the Expert Group on Technology Transfer in favour of a new “Technology Mechanism” (an executive committee and a Climate Technology Centre) which would focus on doubling global “energy related research, development and demonstration by 2012″  and will basically decide what kinds of activities get funding from whatever resources get allocated.     There are two options defining more in detail what the precise mandate of the technology mechanism would be, and of course one reflects the views and interests of the north, and the other of the south.  They are quite diametrically opposed.   The south wants rapid action on accessible affordable technologies, new financing, capacity building, accountability in terms of support offered and to the Conference of the Parties and country driven technology plans, looser intellectual property arrangements, joint R & D.   The North wants “improved enabling environments”, technology needs assessments and planning processes , regional innovation centres,  road maps and action plans that report to the Subsidiary Bodies for Scientific and Technological Advice and the status quo on intellectual property.  As a representative of Microsoft stated yesterday in a side event, they are “quite satisfied” with current arrangements at the wto and wipo.

Finally, the text foresees a Climate Technology Network that will also facilitate public-private partnerships, accelerate diffusion of technologies and provide “technical assistance and support”.  Basically, there seems to be three new layers of support for private sector involvement in technology transfer, which would be in keeping the work the soon-to-be-phased out Expert Group on Technology Transfer, and the conclusions of the sbsta from this weekend.  There is no mention whatsoever of civil society groups, local communities or social impacts!  It is not at all difficult to imagine this network holding meetings on geo-engineering over the next few years!

At a side event organized by the International Chamber of Commerce on December 14, the business community made it very clear that they wanted strong ip protection, predictable regulatory environments and claimed that 80% of technology transfer was done by business. As Peter Taylor of the International Energy Agency said: “Business sees the whole climate change issue just as much as an opportunity as a threat”. That is precisely the way the new text on technology transfer is structured: not to meet the threat of climate change, but as a new business opportunity.

in a best case scenario, we have useless layers of bureaucracy so it will be business as usual. In a worst case scenario, we shall have accelerated deployment and financing of unproven and even untested technologies that will potentially worsen the climate crisis — exactly what happened with biofuels.

Those who say no deal is better than a bad deal are right.  And although tension is rising with 100 heads of state arriving in the next few days, from inside the Bella Centre, a deal looks more and more unlikely. Naomi Klein commented this morning in a press conference for the Angry Mermaid Award (which Monsanto won) that there is not enough talk about corporate lobbying in this forum and that it is far too polite.  So true.  As NGOs, it is extremely difficult to think that we have any leverage at all to influence text at this point in time but the multinational corporations, so effectively coordinated by the icc and the large international agencies and International financial institutions continue to get what they want: precious little action on climate change.


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