Methodological and Technological Issues in Technology Transfer

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1.8 Technology Transfer Related to Global Climate Change

An introductory and illustrative reference is made here on technology transfer and cooperation in addressing the challenges posed by global climate change. Some technology transfer processes are driven by the FCCC process, others are not. The important role of technology transfer in this context has been recognised in several Reports (e.g. IPCC, 1996) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as well as in Agenda 21 and in the deliberations of the Parties to the UNFCCC, and by others (e.g. Grubb, 1990; MacDonald, 1992; Guertin et al., 1993; Rath and Herbert-Copley, 1993; UNCTAD, 1997).

The coming into effect of the UNFCC has assisted in helping identify the technology needs of developing countries in cooperation with various stakeholders, including investors, through technology assessment panels. An initiative of the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the government of Japan attempts to combine voluntary action by governments with incentives for private dissemination of technological information. The latter has evolved the Greenhouse Gas Technology-Information Exchange (GREENTIE), which has identified specific initiatives for certain countries (Forsyth, 1998).

While technology transfer is a common feature these days of all sectors of human activity, there are some features that are unique to the area of climate change. One salient feature is that of scale - both in terms of geography and the number of technologies. Essentially all countries of the world could be involved in the process, and the number of technologies could easily run into the thousands. Another unique feature of technology transfer in the context of global climate change is the number of persons that might benefit from the success of these efforts, since the whole world is expected to be the beneficiary.

Another aspect of technology development and transfer related to global climate change that is sometimes different from technology in many other sectors is that the payback period for the research and development expenses may be too long to be of interest to the private sector. In such cases, special incentives may have to be provided through government policies or the research and development may have to be undertaken by research organisations in the public sector. A great deal of such effort in the area of renewable energy has been undertaken in governmental laboratories in the industrialised countries, and the intellectual property associated with it thus lies in the public sector. This might facilitate the transfer of environmentally sound technologies dealing with, for example, renewable energy.

Mitigation and adaptation technologies
The focus of this Report is on the processes of technology transfer, and ways to promote cooperation in technologies dealing with global climate change, both for mitigation and adaptation. The mitigation technologies can be classified either by the specific greenhouse gas, or by sector of human activity resulting in the emissions and accumulation. Three sectors, energy (including transportation, industry and buildings) agriculture and forestry are key in determining the level of emissions affecting climate change. There are six gases under the Kyoto Protocol, but the dominant ones in climate forcing are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). It is however important to keep in mind that a climate change effect, that is, temperature rise and its impacts, is determined more by the cumulative emissions over time than by current emissions alone. In this context, land-use change can play an important role in climate change as well. Prominent processes include measures to increase energy efficiency in general, development of renewable energy, improving the emission levels of the transport sector, mitigating emissions from the agricultural sector, building markets for environmentally sounder technologies, and facilitating investment and trade (IPCC, 1996).

While the scope of mitigation technologies is large, that of technologies for adapting to climate change may be even larger. Such technologies would include everything from building design and construction to changes in agricultural practices and to approaches to coastal zone management. The process of adaptation relates to many impacts of climate change that will impinge on collective goods and systems, such as food and water security, biodiversity and human health and safety.

Adaptation has played only a marginal part in the reports produced by IPCC so far, which is also reflected on the attention given to adaptation technology development and its transfer. One of the reasons was the existence of two distinct schools of thought about climate change, both of which have chosen not to encourage adaptation research and planning (Kates, 1997). The "preventionist" school argues that the ongoing increase of atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations could be catastrophic, and that drastic action is required to reduce emissions. The "adaptationist" school, on the other hand, sees the need to focus on neither adaptation nor mitigation and argue that both natural and human systems will adapt naturally to changing circumstances (Kates, 1997). The increasing awareness of climate change not as a theoretical phenomenon but as a genuine threat has led to the emergence of a third school of thought labelled the "realist" school (Klein and MacIver, 1999). The realist understand that a process must be set in motion to consider adaptation as a crucial and realistic response option along with mitigation (Parry et al., 1998; Pielke, 1998).

The impacts of climate change may be positive in some cases. For example, in specific locations, and for some plant species, a rise in carbon dioxide concentration may result in higher production. Adaptation may also provide new opportunities for uses of land, and result in reduced heating needs in temperate countries. On the other hand, climate change is expected to have a negative impact in many other cases, for instance in agriculture (see Chapter 11), forest lands (see Chapter 12), human health (see Chapter 14) and coastal zones (see Chapter 15). These impacts could affect commercial interests indirectly, but usually the strongest and most direct incentives to adapt are found within the public sector. The use and transfer of many adaptation technologies worldwide has occurred because of societal interventions, not as a result of market forces. Examples of such interventions include direct governmental expenditures, regulations and policies, and public choices.

Apart from the government being a dominant stakeholder in technology transfer for adaptation, four more characteristics often distinguish adaptation from mitigation to climate change. Each of these characteristics also represents a barrier to adaptation and associated technology transfer:

  • Uncertainty concerning the role of greenhouse gases in causing climate change has been reduced, but uncertainty about the location, rate and magnitude of impacts is still considerable, which could hamper effective anticipatory adaptation.
  • Adaptation technologies will often address site-specific issues and will therefore have to be designed and implemented keeping local considerations in mind. This could hamper large-scale technology replication.
  • As opposed to benefits of mitigation, which are global (reduced atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations), benefits of adaptation are primarily local. For this reason, adaptation projects thus far have attracted limited interest from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and other donors.
  • The implementation of mitigation technologies can contribute to the development of a country's energy-consuming sectors, while adaptation technologies are primarily aimed at preventing or reducing impacts on these and other sectors. As such, adaptation is often not considered a development objective.

In spite of adaptation often not being considered a development objective, governments have a number of clear incentives and opportunities to start planning for adaptation. For example, many adaptation technologies do not only reduce vulnerability to anticipated impacts of climate change but also to contemporary hazards associated with climate variability. It could be considered "no-regret" adaptation or "climate safe development", having utility both now and in the future, even if climate change were not to occur. In addition, adaptation options need to be designed keeping site-specific natural and socio-cultural circumstances in mind. Strengthening technological, institutional, legal and economic capacities, as well as raising awareness among key stakeholders are important for effective adaptation and technology transfer, because no adaptation option will be successful when it is implemented in an environment that is not ready, willing or able to receive the option.

Kyoto Mechanisms
A specific measure which can affect the promotion of climate-related technologies is the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) defined in Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol (UNDP, 1998). As further discussed in the Report, it offers, inter alia, the possibility of obtaining credit from certified emission reductions occurring during the period 2000 to 2008 AD during the years 2008 to 2012 (Art.12, para. 10). This provides a strong incentive to embark on CDM projects in developing countries soon after the beginning of the new millennium. Tradable permits and Joint Implementation (JI) are other flexible mechanisms which might facilitate technology transfer (Carraro, 1999; Grubb et al., 1999; Jepma and van der Gaast, 1999; Oberthur et al., 1999). The CoP4 meeting in Buenos Aires, in November 1998, further discussed the development and transfer of technologies, where the SBSTA made a set of specific recommendations, with a special emphasis on capacity building and consultative processes (see also Section 3.4 for further discussion of CoP4 decisions and flexible mechanisms).

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