The agreement to establish a new Climate Technology Mechanism is one of the concrete outcomes of the Cancun climate change conference which has gone relatively unnoticed, in contrast to other important decisions such as the creation of a Green Climate Fund and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).
The main goal of the Mechanism is to accelerate the development and transfer of climate friendly technologies, in particular to developing countries, to support action on climate mitigation and adaptation. It is premised on the wide recognition that the large scale diffusion of these technologies is pivotal to global efforts to reduce green house gas emissions.
While technology transfer has been a key objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) since its inception, little had been achieved to operationalize its key provisions in this area. Developing countries have been demanding, for many years, concrete steps to strengthen this fundamental ‘pillar’ of the climate regime, particularly given the clear link between the extent to which they will implement their commitments under the Convention and the effective implementation by developed countries of their commitments relating to financial resources and transfer of technology.
From this perspective, the new Technology Mechanism can be an important meeting point for developed and developing countries to work together, in a positive spirit, to accelerate the diffusion and actual deployment of climate friendly technologies.
However, many challenges lie ahead in order to make the Mechanism operational and effective.
First, it needs to be endowed with sufficient resources if it is to play any meaningful role and make a ‘real’ difference. In this regard, neither the amount of resources it will dispose of nor its possible links with the Convention’s financial mechanisms such as the new Green Climate Fund are clear.
Second, a number of pending institutional issues need to be addressed such as the nature of the relationship between the Mechanism’s two bodies: the Technology Executive Committee (TEC) and the Climate Technology Centre and Network. While it was initially envisaged that the TEC would oversee the work of the Technology Centre and Network, apprehensions that the TEC could become a ‘politicized’ body which intervenes in technology matters has led to a reappraisal. This matter should be dealt with swiftly by COP 17 in Durban (2011) so it doesn’t hamper the future work of the Mechanism.
Finally, and most importantly, the two above mentioned bodies are provided with a relatively long list of ‘general’ priority areas and functions which in some cases overlap and in most cases need to be ‘fleshed out’ in more detail. For instance, the Climate Technology Centre and Network is supposed to “facilitate a network of national, regional, sectoral and international technology centres, networks, organization and initiatives”. The modalities of such network require further in depth consideration taking into account existing experiences.
Overall, the new Technology Mechanism represents a potential step to move beyond the ‘conventional’ approach to technology transfer under the climate regime – based essentially on capacity building and technology needs assessments – to a more ‘dynamic’ one geared towards fostering public-private partnerships; promoting innovation; catalysing the use of technology road maps or action plans; mobilizing national, regional and international technology centres and facilitating joint R&D activities.
During the negotiations leading to Cancun, developing countries had pressed for the inclusion of intellectual property rights (IPRs) as one of the possible ‘barriers’ to technology transfer. However, developed countries, in particular the United States, opposed such demand in view of the essential role they consider that IPRs play in promoting innovation in clean technologies. A ‘polarized’ debate followed where a meaningful dialogue based on evidence rather than rhetoric had little chances of taking place. Ultimately, any reference to IPRs was dropped from the Cancun final decisions.
Apart from governments, the success of the Technology Mechanism will be contingent on the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders, in particular the private sector. While there might be some skepticism among business regarding the effectiveness of international arrangements in encouraging technology diffusion, meaningful contribution to the Mechanism’s activities could provide a valuable opportunity for the private sector to show its commitment to combat climate change through technology diffusion beyond a ‘business as usual approach’.
The task facing the Technology Mechanism is arduous. Technologies are country and sector specific. There is no ‘silver bullet’ technology nor do ‘one size fits all’ measures work for all countries. Flexibility in its design and operation as well as effectiveness in carrying out its tasks would prevent it from becoming yet another redundant ‘top-down’ international bureaucracy. Governments and other stakeholders have an important role in ensuring its future success.