Methodological and Technological Issues in Technology Transfer

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3.9 Coastal Adaptation

Technology transfer for coastal adaptation to climate change has characteristics that are in many ways different from explanations of transfer in other chapters of Section II of the Report. It focuses on technologies for a geographic area rather than on a specific resource, such as forestry and agriculture, or an infrastructure issue, such as transportation and building construction. Populations and infrastructure investments are continuously growing in these regions because of the large number of valuable goods and services provided by coastal systems. Yet, the coastal zone is perhaps the most vulnerable region to climate-related hazards, such as storm surges and erosion. Extensive research has shown that climate change will increase the hazard potential.

The potential impacts of climate change by itself may not always be the largest threat to natural coastal systems. Coastal ecological systems and societies are already under severe pressure from uncontrolled socio-economic growth leading to overexploitation of natural resources, pollution, decreasing fresh-water availability, and urbanisation. These non-climate stresses decrease the resilience of coastal systems to cope with natural climate variability and increase their vulnerability to climate change. However, governments often do not consider adaptation a development objective, and there may be a great disparity between government expenditures to improve social organisation and economic production and investments of public resources in coastal adaptation.

In many places, technology has been instrumental in reducing society's vulnerability to anticipated impacts of climate change in three basic ways:

  • Protect--reduce the risk of the event by decreasing its probability of occurrence;
  • Retreat--reduce the risk of the event by limiting its potential effects;
  • Accommodate--increase society's ability to cope with the effects of the event.

Effective adaptation to climate change needs to consider the numerous non-climate stresses in coastal zones and be consistent with existing policy criteria and development objectives. Adaptation in coastal zones must strike a balance between current pressures resulting from climate variability and unsustainable development, and anticipated impacts of climate change and associated sea-level rise. Adaptation technologies are best implemented as part of a broader, integrated coastal-management framework that recognises immediate and longer-term sectoral needs. Win-win situations could be established when coastal-adaptation technologies also provide benefits unrelated to climate change such as improving recreatinal opportunities enhancing biodiversity and reducing vulnerability to today's hazards.

Existing coastal technologies that have been used to deal with climate variability in coastal zones and implementation of integrated coastal zone management can also be applied to accomplish each of the four main steps to adapt to climate change: (i) information development and awareness raising, (ii) planning and design, (iii) implementation, and (iv) monitoring and evaluation. Important data gathering technologies to describe coastal characteristics and processes include in-situ and airborne and satellite-based remote sensing systems. Planning and design tools include Geographical Information Systems and models. A range of opportunities exists for the application of both hard and soft technologies to complement economic, legal and institutional options for implementation of the three main coastal adaptation strategies: protect, retreat and accommodate.

A large number of effective protection technologies are available, such as dikes, seawalls, and beach nourishment. These also include traditional, indigenous, non-western technologies, such as coconut-leaf walls, coconut-fibre stone units. Technologies which are incorporated within a managed retreat strategy include rolling easements, set-back zones, and moveable structures. An accommodation strategy would employ technologies such as early warning systems for hazards, rain/waste-water management, and desalination. A number of technologies which have emerged to exchange knowledge and information to support integrated coastal zone management may also be applied to evaluate the effectiveness of coastal adaptation strategies. Despite this vast array of available technologies, many of the world's vulnerable coastal countries currently do not have access to adaptation technologies appropriate for their circumstances, nor to the knowledge or resources that are required to develop or implement these. Therefore, extra efforts should focus on promoting, adjusting, and transferring existing technologies, rather than on the development of new technologies.

The predominant nature and goal of coastal adaptation require a form of technology transfer that differs from many explanations of transfer that describe the process as a company-to-company transaction. Coastal-adaptation technologies-with few exceptions-are not developed and owned by business and industry. Economic considerations are a major force in driving technology transfer for coastal adaptation, but objectives are less focused on commercial terms. Rather, considerations of public well-being are essential, such as the reduction of loss of property and lives, and the protection of essential coastal habitats. Therefore, the strongest and most direct incentives to adapt to climate change in coastal zones are with the public sector, and government interests predominantly drive pathways of technology transfer in coastal zones. Furthermore, many coastal-technology transactions involve the exchange of information and knowledge that exist in the public domain. Knowledge transactions have characteristics that make them quite different from trade transactions.

Many barriers to effective transfer of coastal adaptation technologies are site-specific and require site-specific solutions. Four major general barriers exist: (i) lack of data, information and knowledge to identify adaptation needs and appropriate technologies, (ii) lack of local capacity and consequent dependence of customers on suppliers of technology for operation, maintenance and duplication, (iii) disconnected organisational and institutional relationships between relevant actors and (iv) access to financial means. Overcoming these barriers does not require setting up new bilateral and multilateral institutions or mechanisms. Instead, existing activities and institutions need to be refocused to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of coastal technology transfer. In addition, regional collaboration and a redirection of funds to support appropriate coastal adaptation to climate change are required.

Coastal adaptation to climate change is a transnational issue-it cannot be addressed within the borders of one country, no matter how effective and creative the decision-makers, innovative the academic relationships and dynamic the private sector are in advancing the deployment of appropriate technologies.

First, all stakeholders must recognise that successful coastal adaptation depends on many local factors, and adaptation technologies cannot be simply transferred to other vulnerable areas. The effectiveness of a particular technology depends on local circumstances, including the biophysical setting and economic, institutional, legal and socio-cultural conditions. Technologies must be adjusted, oriented and made appropriate for local conditions in the host country, possibly in the context of integrated coastal zone management. Local expertise is essential to identify and design appropriate coastal-adaptation technologies, as well as to implement, operate and maintain these. Therefore, the importance of global networks to improve and accelerate coastal-adaptation technology transfer should not be underestimated. Such networks provide access to up-to-date information and real-time tracking of global trends, accelerate the formation of joint ventures and permit direct participation in strategic locations around the world. The process for building these networks must include not only personal links but also institutional and functional linkages.

Ever since humans have lived near the sea they have developed and applied technologies to reduce their vulnerability to coastal hazards. The same technologies can be applied to adapt to anticipated impacts of climate change. However, access to these technologies in vulnerable areas can be a problem without effective technology transfer. Improving and facilitating the process of technology transfer are key challenges to reduce coastal vulnerability worldwide.

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