Technology, IP Vital To Addressing Climate Change, UN Meeting Hears 11/12/2008 by Kaitlin Mara for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)By Kaitlin Mara Finding a balance between needed incentives for innovation and equally needed affordable access to new technology is necessary to combat ecological challenges, yet striking it may prove difficult as countries at the United Nations’ talks on climate change struggle to determine what action is possible in the midst of a global economic recession. The UN Climate Change Conference has been meeting in Poznan, Poland from 1 to 12 December. The gathering marks a half-way point in a new set of UN negotiations on climate change, with the goal of reaching an international agreement by the next meeting of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen next year. The UNFCCC is a treaty that provides a framework for governments to share information on greenhouse gas emissions and to cooperate on their reduction. It was updated with legally binding measures for emissions reduction with the Kyoto Protocol, which went into effect in 2005. At the last UNFCCC conference in 2007 in Indonesia, delegates reached agreement on a “Bali Road Map,” which includes an action plan, and is aiming for another update to the UNFCC to be agreed in Denmark in 2009. That agreement is intended to start implementation when the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period ends in 2012. Key to achieving needed objectives will be settling on effective mechanisms for technological assistance and capacity building to help developing countries “green” their growing economies. In order to truly mitigate the potential future effects of climate change, the 2007 action plan [pdf] recognises, among other needed steps, that “effective actions to address climate change require… the widespread uptake of new and existing technologies and the creation of appropriate enabling environments,” UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said in his opening statement at the Poznan conference. The plan also encourages parties to “avoid trade and intellectual property rights policies, or lack thereof, restricting transfer of technology.” Several side events at the current UNFCCC meeting discussed in-depth how intellectual property law plays in to this need for new innovation and the expansion of access to that new innovation. Technology Transfer The first difficulty in ensuring technology transfer is that there is “no universally recognised or enforceable definition as to what technology transfer is or what form it must take,” said Dalindyebo Shabalala of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) at its side event on the Principles and Procedures for Technology Transfer Mechanisms under the UNFCCC. “Industrialised countries,” he said in a statement provided to Intellectual Property Watch, “tend to focus only on the last part of the package, and only on the responsibility of developing countries to create enabling environments for investment” by industrialised nations. But in reality technology transfer requires more than simply the enabling environment, argues a forthcoming CIEL paper entitled, “Model Provisions on Technology Transfer of Environmentally Sound Technologies in Bilateral and Regional Free Trade Agreements.” Technology transfer requires also information, skills training and know-how, including research funding and access to technical journals and publications; infrastructure and physical goods and the financing needed to purchase them; as well as enabling environmental changes such as guarantees on investment, tax breaks, subsidies, and IP safeguards for private companies involved in technology transfer. IP law could hinder technology transfer if recipient or donating parties do not know the patent status of technologies they are considering buying or selling, if licences for technology are unaffordable, or if technology owners fear loss of intellectual property or the creation of competitors by dealing with a particular country, said Shabalala. Other speakers at the CIEL event included Chee Yoke Ling of the Third World Network and Steve Sawyer of the Global Wind Energy Council. Technology Development But transfer of extant technology will not be enough. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) emphasised at a side event on 8 December that it is critical to “increase the pace of technological innovation, cooperation and dissemination. “Business,” the ICC said, “is the primary source of innovation” and “a critical actor in the development, commercialisation, and dissemination of technology.” Technology developments promise to reduce the cost of stabilising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, said Carl Horton of General Electric Company, which produces environmental technologies, at a separate ICC event on the same day, according to a copy of his presentation. Some studies, Horton said, indicate the savings could be as much as half. But IP protection is needed to incentivise private-sector research into new technology, Horton asserted. Prizes are more motivating in academia, and government research might be suited to long-term projects, he said, but the private sector – which Horton claimed invests about seventy percent of research dollars annually – requires the predictability of return afforded by strong IP protection. Transfer of the new innovations can be aided by IP licensing, joint commercialisation efforts, or outsourcing of production components, Horton said, but emphasised that stable and predictably enforceable laws, especially on IP, are essential. The ICC event brought together panellists from several industry groups, including Thaddeus Burns, senior IP counsel at General Electric; Andrei Marcu, climate change and emissions trading advisor at Bennett Jones; Vijay K Topa, advisor to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry; and Yoshi Tachibana, a sustainability advisor to the Board of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Panellists discussed market-based approaches to technology transfer, including the need for IP protection as a basis for technology development. The ICC has recently released a paper [pdf]on technology transfer for climate change which, among other points, asserts that governments should “not resort to solutions that might jeopardise the essential role of patents by creating additional burdens on intellectual property owners” and that limitations on licensing should be “rare” and “short-term,” only used in case of “true national emergencies in which there is no alternative.” Lessons from Public Health An event cosponsored by the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands, the Geneva-based International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development, and the University of Sussex (United Kingdom) on 5 December discussed technology transfer lessons, in particular those learned from prior negotiations on health. Frederick Abbott, a University of Florida law professor, spoke on the ways in which public health debates on IP can and cannot inform future debates on climate change. The nature of medication as having high research and development costs, but relatively low engineering costs, puts it in contrast with most environmental technologies. In the latter, foundation technology is “presumed to be well known” and new innovation is likely to be incremental and therefore leave room “for alternative technological pathways” that will allow for competition, he said. However, key lessons can be gained from IP negotiations related to public health, particularly that propaganda from all sides of the issues can skew perceptions, and that shifting debate from one international forum to another in order to avoid constraints or obstacles can be detrimental to negotiations, said Abbott. The need, he added, to create win-win situations – in which private companies doing much of the research also benefit – is essential, as “zero-sum bargaining is unlikely to be successful.” Other aspects of public health negotiations – such as the concept of “essential medicines” – may not be as relevant, as continued technology improvements will bring down costs and prices of environmental goods, he said. Also speaking at this event, according to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin, were Andrew Higham of the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands; David Ockwell of the University of Sussex; Heleen de Coninck, Environmental Policy Analysis Group at the University of the Netherlands; Shane Tomlinson at sustainable development group E3G; Pedro Roffe of ICTSD; and Bert Metz of the European Climate Foundation. Kaitlin Mara may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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