Developing nations call for UN body to police battle on climate change
A green technology body with powers to direct a worldwide transition away from a high-carbon economy is needed to combat climate change, according to the world’s developing nations. While most negotiations ahead of the UN’s climate change summit in Copenhagen next month have been concerned with which nations should slash greenhouse gas emissions and by how much, the method in which these cuts will be achieved has received far less attention. Yet the importance of green technology – from wind turbines to electric cars to zero-carbon buildings – is enormous.
Developing nations argue that the costs should be paid by the rich nations, and that a new global body is required, perhaps working as part of the UN, to direct the world’s low-carbon transformation in sectors as diverse as power, transport and heavy industry.
“We know that, to limit global temperature rises to below 2C, we’ll need a step change in global innovation and technology transfer,” said Shane Tomlinson of environment consultants E3G. “In the period to 2020, it’s vital we avoid high carbon lock-in. The infrastructure decisions that developing countries are taking today, such as new power stations, are going to determine their emissions pathways for 20-30 years.”
In the short term, that means rolling out proven technologies such as onshore and offshore wind power, solar photovoltaics and energy efficiency measures. A recent analysis by the Climate Group found that, to meet the emissions targets already agreed by nations, 9.3bn tonnes of CO2 must be prevented from entering the atmosphere by 2020. But these will not be enough for the deep cuts – 80% or more on 1990 levels – that many rich countries will have to deliver by 2050, if the world is to limit warming to the 2C that scientists agree is the safe limit. By then, according to the International Energy Agency, 17 technologies will have to be developed and rolled out to deliver a reduction of 42bn tonnes of CO2. Most of that technology – ranging from carbon capture and storage, solar power and zero-emission vehicles – will need to be deployed in emerging economies.
At Copenhagen, the first decision on technology will be to decide if a new co-ordinating body should have powers to command the clean tech roll out. “The G77 [group of developing nations] and China have proposed a new central executive, political body,” said Tomlinson. It would be part of the existing UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which administers the Kyoto protocol.
However, Europe and the US want only an advisory committee – their main concern is that a strong political body may end up channelling funds into state enterprises rather than keeping a level playing field for all businesses. Developing countries say an advisory body would have little power to drive the dramatic changes needed.
The polarised debate has led some to compare the sharing of IP in green technology to arguments over whether pharmaceutical companies should give up patents for expensively developed HIV or malaria drugs in those nations blighted by the illnesses. Alia al-Dalli, deputy resident representative in Morocco for the United Nations Development Programme, said that without local education programmes, the only winners from Copenhagen will be multinational technology companies. “Capacity-development is very important – people need to be educated and aware. You’ve got to be able to produce technologies by the south for the south, in the south,” she said. “It will not merely be technology transfer.”
Ambuj Sagar, a professor of policy studies at the Indian Institute of Technology – Delhi, said: “The best step would be if we stopped using the term technology transfer and started using something like innovation co-operation to signify that this is not a simple issue. It is not a hand-off from producers of technology to users of technology. We need co-operation instead of a simple reliance on markets to tackle what is an immense challenge.”