Technology transfer: a way forward for climate change negotiations

6 December 2012
As the UN Climate Change Conference (COP18) proceeds in Doha, the main stumbling block for negotiations is still an agreement on emission reduction targets ambitious enough to prevent a dangerous rise in global temperatures.

20 year old Meenakshi Diwan tends to maintenance works in the solar village Tinginapu, India. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith / Panos

The latest update shows that current emission reduction pledges will not achieve this. Current pledges from developed and developing countries would lead to temperature increases significantly exceeding 2°C. Furthermore, few countries have the right policies in place to match their pledges.

Most of the future growth in energy consumption and green house gas emissions will come from developing countries, as they strive to match the welfare levels of the developed world. Developing countries have so far been reluctant to accept absolute emission reductions, citing the historical responsibility of the developed world and need to prioritise economic growth and poverty eradication.

However, without clear action by developing countries to reduce the carbon intensity of their economic growth, the global climate problem cannot be tackled. The development, transfer and use of low-carbon technologies offer a way forward. Many developing countries believe that technology can achieve sustained growth without compromising the climate. It also has more positive connotations than capping emissions.

Technology transfer pitfalls

Since its inception, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has recognised the importance of technology transfer in achieving the stabilisation of global emissions. In the 13th Conference of the Parties (COP13), held in 2007 in Bali, technology became one of the four pillars of an expected post-2012 climate change regime.

Unfortunately, so far the success of the UNFCCC process in promoting technology transfer has been limited. The Convention has been entangled in long discussions that have delayed action, while the mechanisms it has created have either failed to create actual technology transfer or have led to progress on a project-by-project basis that has not been scaled-up to the level required. As a result, businesses and policymakers in developing countries often complain about the disparity between the bureaucratic UNFCCC processes and actual and urgent needs on the ground.

Attempting to overcome this impasse, developing countries have pushed for the creation of a Technology Mechanism (TM), which was established at COP16, held in December 2010. The objective of the TM is to enhance clean technology development and diffusion.

In order to be an effective catalyser of climate change technology transfer, the TM will need to address three pitfalls of the previous UNFCCC approach to technology transfer:
  1. The disconnection between UNFCCC processes and the national enabling environments that encourage private low-carbon investment and technology transfer.
  2. The homogenous approach for all developing countries, even though differences between these are more and more evident.
  3. The lack of clear measurements of the volume and effectiveness of technology transfers.

A new IDS working paper addresses these pitfalls by analysing the performance of developing countries against several indicators of enabling factors for technology transfer.

Three quantitative analysis methodologies – principal component analysis, multiple regression analysis and cluster analysis – are used to identify the most important enabling factors of technology transfer and to create groups of developing countries according to their performance. Policy recommendations are then adapted to the specific needs of each of the defined groups.

The aim of this paper is to contribute to a better design of the TM. The interventions of an effective TM should be context driven and target specific bottlenecks in the enabling factors for low-carbon technology transfer. Whether or not a slow-paced, consensus based TM, can achieve this, remains to be seen.