The role trade will play in the post-Kyoto climate negotations has yet to been fully determined. Efforts have been made to reduce GHG emissions through trade, but many questions about the range and form of finance and investment for innovation, adaptation, and technology transfer remain. For our group’s key issue paper I focused on the issue of technology transfer and patent rights. As I soon found out, much needs to be done on this front in subsequent climate change negotations.

As under-secretary general at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs points out, “the global climate policy will succeed — or fail — depending on whether it brings low-emissions technologies, and technologies for adaptation, within the reach of poor countries and communities without further delay.” That said, much will have to improve to make it easier for developing and Least Developing Countries (LDCs) to achieve low carbon livelihoods. A 2008 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study points out that from 1985-2004 80% of mitiagation related-technology transfers were between developed countries. The remaining 20% that went to developing countries only went to China and Korea.

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While many point to the need for strong patent rights to encourage technological innovation, an excessive level of protection of patents might impede the acquisition of new climate-related technologies, especially in LDCs. The UNFCCC has recognized that countries in the African region and small island developing states have “specific needs and special situations” that require more urgent consideration with regard to technology transfer. To put it simply, these countries are in the initial stages of technological development and patent rights would probably not operate as an incentive for the transfer of technology as it would in more developed countries. Neverthless, patent rights (also known as intellectual property rights) are only one of the many obstacles standing in the way of widespread and urgent technology transfer.

In order for technology transfer to have a greater impact, negotiators need to address the first things first. Issues of finance and investment will drive the future success or failure of technology transfer. UNFCCC general secretary Yvo de Boer estimates that rich countries need to start a fund of US$10 billion on the table in Copenhagen. In the longer term, an estimated US$200 billion is needed for mitigation technology and an aditional US$100 billion will be needed to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

Read here for the latest up-to-date information on technology transfer in the context of COP15 in Copenhagen and beyond.

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