UN Climate Report Envisions Modified TRIPS As Governments Seek ProgressPublished on 1 September 2009 @ 2:08 pm
By William New, Intellectual Property Watch
Scientists and bureaucrats meeting this week on climate change and weather data are struggling to move global discussion past general declarations of recognition and commitment to address environmental change. One bump under the rug at the United Nations conference is rights over environmental technologies, and a new UN report released Tuesday calls for massive investment and a focus on flexibilities in – and possible changes to – intellectual property rights rules to help developing countries access information and technologies.
The Third World Climate Conference (the first was in 1979, second in 1992), being held in Geneva and organised by the UN World Meteorological Organization and other UN agencies, will “establish an international framework to guide the development of climate services which will link science-based climate predictions and information with climate-risk management and adaptation to climate variability and change,” according to the conference website.
On Tuesday, the World Economic and Social Survey 2009, subtitled, “Promoting Development, Saving the Planet,” was released. The report, drafted by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, a top secretariat office at headquarters in New York, focuses on climate change and calls for dramatic changes in the status quo in order to prevent destruction of the planet.
The report calls for a new approach to addressing climate change, with an enormous scale-up in investment in “low-emission, high-growth” strategies for developing countries. It says an upfront investment of one percent of annual global GDP, between $5-6 billion [Correction: $500-600 billion] per year, for several years would bring developing countries on board on climate change and put the world on track. This figure echoes the US commitment made to reconstruct Europe under the Marshall Plan after World War II, Richard Kozul-Wright, chief of the Development Policy and Analysis Division at UNDESA, told reporters Tuesday. He also said the world mustered some $11 trillion to save financial institutions recently and might consider whether the “continuation of species,” including possibly the humans, might be of at least equal importance.
The report found that the major cause of the climate problem has come from developed countries, and developing nation representatives at the conference argue the focus of global climate talks should shift away from mere emissions counts by nation, focusing instead on emissions per capita. The non-profit Third World Network this week issued a call for developed countries to “pay up” for the ecological debt they have incurred in their development.
This is supported by UN analysis. For instance, China is often cited as a major contributor to emissions, but this is a factor of its population size as China’s per capita emissions are lower than those of the United States before World War I, according to Kozul-Wright. The aim of climate change policy should be to address the problem while not stifling developing country growth targets of 5-7 percent per year, the report said.
A key concern is the cost of new technologies, said Kozul-Wright, the research for which is often said to be incentivised by the possibility of monopolies through patents. The report found that the distribution of patent ownership of climate-related technologies is “very heavily” skewed in favour of advanced economies.
WTO Declaration on TRIPS and Climate Change?
“The current legal and policy framework governing intellectual property (IP) and technology, as contained mainly in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), might therefore represent a barrier to technological diffusion and negatively affect both adaptation and mitigation efforts in developing countries,” UN-DESA said in a release on the report. Multilateral actions to improve the IP framework should be a “top priority” in global talks, and these actions “can either be channelled to better exploit existing flexibilities or require a modification of the TRIPS agreement in the framework of the World Trade Organization.”
An in-depth chapter on technology transfer in the report details ways to take advantage of existing flexibilities built into TRIPS for developing countries, including limiting patentability and use of compulsory licensing. It also proposes ways in which TRIPS might be modified, creating a new “Declaration on TRIPS and climate change,” with exceptions for least-developed countries and small island nations and offer new incentives for the transfer of environmental technologies.
The report also works through possible changes to licensing schemes to streamline the process for developing countries, including possible temporary licences granted along the lines of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The report acknowledges the “great political difficulties” in modifying a WTO agreement, but said treatment of technologies might be less crucial than broader objectives of TRIPS, “as evidenced by the progress in respect of essential medicines,” It added that governments might stress common interests in advancing the global public good of a stable climate.
The report also urges open-source sharing of information access, and increased sharing of public research and development results. It suggested the Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-Sharing of the international plant genetic resources treaty as a model.
US Remains Non-Specific on Action
A top United States official on climate change, Sherburne “Shere” Abbott, in a Monday briefing with reporters, declined to move past generalities, but sought to send a message of departure with the past administration. “Climate change is here and it’s real,” Abbott said.
Abbott was named in March as associate director for environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Her husband, James Steinberg, was named deputy Secretary of State and served as a national security adviser in the Clinton administration, according to Politico.
Climate change is “a major priority of the Obama administration,” said Abbott. “We intend to take aggressive action” and provide “new leadership.” She also said the US is sharing a “large amount” of scientific information with developing countries and working on “strategies and modalities” to share products with “those who need them.”
Abbott would not discuss details on how the US will fulfil these claims, including whether sharing products and technology would involve intellectual property rights. But she said the US brought a delegation of about 50 scientists, officials from a range of agencies and pointed to the administration’s largest budget increase in research and development “in recent years.”
Abbott called the Geneva meeting “essential” to the December meeting in Copenhagen of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as this week’s gathering integrates science into the process. The hope this week is to “launch a global framework for climate services,” she said.
But there appears to be a de-linking between this week’s meeting and the UNFCCC, according to participants.
William New may be reached at email@example.com.
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