Methodological and Technological Issues in Technology Transfer

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Executive Summary

The topic of technology transfer has been an important part of international discussions on development policy for decades. In the context of environment and development, technology transfer was a key element in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) agreements, including Chapter 34 of Agenda 21 and several Articles in the UNFCCC. These agreements note that effective technology transfer will be essential to meet the global challenges and to enable collaboration between developing and developed countries for the transfer of technologies. This will depend both upon local initiatives and regulations - many of which (such as efficiency improvements) could be beneficial anyway - and various international agreements that bear upon the technology transfer process.

Governments effectively own some important technologies, and these will require government-driven pathways. For private-sector pathways, harnessing the bulk of international investment, intellectual property rights (IPR) regimes are an important consideration. Overall the literature is diverse concerning the relationship between IPRs and technology transfer. Stronger IPRs, particularly resulting from the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIP) agreement, may foster innovation and vertical technology transfer, but could impede horizontal dissemination of certain technologies through private-sector and community-driven pathways. Compliance with decisions reached in Agenda 21, UNGASS 1997 and other relevant fora is important in this regard, and the TRIP agreement allows for compulsory licensing as a last resort if other avenues are exhausted and with due compensation. A number of international mechanisms are available for bilateral and multilateral financial assistance including, for example, international financial assistance for licensing relevant technologies. This could be one way for the international regime to support technology transfer where market-driven, grants, equity investment, and joint venture solutions are not feasible. IPR regimes could be harnessed more widely to support innovation and dissemination of environmentally sound technologies (ESTs). Industry standards, including management standards developed through the International Standards Organization (ISO) and sectoral standards for some industries, could also play an important role in fostering global dissemination of ESTs.

Specific provisions on technology transfer form an important part of "positive measures" in several multilateral environmental agreements, which help to foster effectiveness and stability of these regimes. Apart from financial mechanisms, there is little empirical evidence concerning how technology transfer provisions have operated in practice. The most extensive experience is with the Montreal Protocol, where the Multilateral Fund (1998), working together with a multitude of supporting institutions and networks, has facilitated extensive technology transfer.

The UNFCCC itself spawned a number of technology-oriented initiatives. Attempts to set up Technology Assessment Panels failed primarily due to disagreements over representation. The Climate Technology Initiative is expanding as an important supporting endeavour though its impact is as yet difficult to evaluate. Ways of discouraging transfer of inferior technology need to be found. The text in the Kyoto Protocol recognises the need for cooperation and enhancement of supportive conditions, including for the private sector in developing countries, as well as the responsibilities of Annex II Parties. The project-level mechanisms of Joint Implementation (JI) and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) could be important avenues for furthering international technology transfer. This, however, does not absolve Annex II Parties from their commitments. The COP4 decision on technology transfer represents an important new opportunity for furthering technology transfer under the Convention. Ultimately, however, it is what happens within countries, and companies, that will do the most to determine the pace and nature of technology transfer.

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