Climate change: Technology transfer to LDCs

Lutfun Nahar | Published: November 23, 2015 19:33:14 | Updated: October 23, 2017 02:10:10

Climate change and environmental degradation are certainly the overriding issues of the 21st century. Climate change affects a host of human rights. Rising surface temperatures and projected increases in vector-borne diseases implicate the rights to health, food and life. Changes in precipitation patterns and the melting of glaciers implicate the right to water. Measures for the mitigation of climate change, in particular the use of forests as carbon sinks, could adversely affect the rights of local and indigenous communities. The rights of women and children are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change in many countries. 
Technological innovation plays a decisive role in the fight against climate change and environmental degradation. Environmental technologies have been defined by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as those "technologies that protect the environment, are less polluting, use all resources in a more sustainable manner, recycle more of their wastes and products, and handle residual wastes in a more acceptable manner than the technologies for which they were substitutes and are compatible with nationally determined socio-economic, cultural and environmental priorities".  Response to climate change critically depends on the cost, performance, and availability and sharing of appropriate technologies such as wind power, carbon capture and storage, electric vehicles, solar energy, and many other technologies that can lower emissions, mitigate, and adapt to climate change. The least developing countries (LDC) need access to environmentally-sound technologies at affordable prices.
The central role of technology transfer to developing countries as well as the development of endogenous technology in these countries were recognised in the 1992 Rio Summit, as well as in its related conventions including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC recognises technology development and transfer in several provisions, including article 4.3 (developed countries shall provide financial resources including for technology transfer needed by developing countries to meet their agreed full incremental costs of implementing measures), article 4.5 (developed countries shall take all practicable steps to facilitate and finance transfer of and access to environmentally sound technologies and know-how particularly to developing countries; and shall support the development and enhancement of endogenous capacities and technologies of developing countries) and article 4.7 (the extent to which developing countries will implement their commitments will depend on effective implementation of developed countries' commitments on financial resources and technology transfer). Despite the recognition of the central role of technology transfer, there has been in fact little transfer of climate-friendly technologies under the UNFCCC. 
Intellectual property rights (IPRs) is another important and often contested issue in the discussion on technology transfer and development. Geneva-based South Centre, an intergovernmental organisation of developing nations, has pointed out that since most of the IPRs on EST (environmentally sound technologies) are held by firms in developed countries, this can impede the ability of developing countries to have meaningful and affordable access to these technologies. The barriers include (a) high royalty fees; (b) refusal to license by the patent holder; (c) "ever-greening of patents"; (d) increasing patent litigation and (e) impediments to innovation.
With the gradually strengthened international patent protection, the external competitive inferiority of developing countries will grow in intensity, which is likely to leave the poorest countries always left at the bottom of technological competition and economic growth.
Moreover, certain technologies that are specific to the needs of developing countries are not being developed at all, because the developing countries lack the innovation capacity to do so, while the developed countries lack incentive to develop such 'neglected' technologies. In order to efficiently mitigate climate change, it is therefore a priority that developing countries are not only given relevant access to environmental technologies, but equally benefit from major capacity building operations.
There is a strong emphasis on science and technology for the achievement of sustainable development. The LDCs are particularly disadvantaged in this area, as given their low technology base and other shortcomings (finance etc.), technological "leapfrogging" is not an available option. LDCs need not only technology, but also a strong science base, top quality Human Resource development, finance and technical partnerships. 
It has been recommended in the UN General Assembly Consultative Workshops on "Development, transfer and dissemination of clean and environmentally sound technologies in developing countries" that it is important to connect local and global processes. The objective is to have technologies that are available globally but affordable to developing countries. 
IPRs have faced a roadblock in the international discourse. There is a need for freer movement of technologies, and collaboration is the key to diffuse the challenges concerning IPRs.
Effective rule of law and transparency, including in the administrative and permit processes, a clear and effective pricing structure and an adequate financing sector represent other key factors for success. To increase awareness for technology one needs to have proper legislations and proper rules. The governments in LDCs have a critical enabling role to play in this context.
Barrister Lutfun Nahar is a former Assistant Attorney General
of Bangladesh.

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