Climate Technology Transfer: How International Mechanisms Drive Climate Action
A bird’s eye exploration into technology transfer (TT) mechanisms and their implications in the climate space.
November 10, 2022
5 min read; 682 words
Tags: Energy Policy
Author: Bronwyn Patterson
On November 6th, the 27th annual Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) convened. Bringing together world leaders and prominent climate experts, COP27 aims to outline not only how each nation is mitigating the devastating effects of climate change, but also how to enhance the resiliency of the globe’s most vulnerable regions.
Yet even by day 3 of the Conference, one consistent crux has emerged from each agenda item: climate investments, specifically which technologies- and from what sources- to invest in.
The McKinsey Institute reported that roughly US$275 Trillion dollars would need to be spent on physical assets to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This hefty price tag demonstrates beyond a doubt that international mechanisms and policies must deploy environmentally sound technologies, particularly in developing countries, that allow for a swift but cost-effective transition towards net-zero.
Enter technology transfer. Subsuming the complex value chains of disclosure, evaluation, protection, and launch of new technologies, technology transfer is essentially an umbrella mechanism connecting the novel discoveries and inventions of universities and research institutions to the international corporate sphere. In a nutshell, technology transfer is the courier of scientific and technological research to the global market and between nations.
With that said, technology transfer is far from avant garde in the climate world- in fact, the transfer of new technologies has remained the embodiment of the UNFCCC (and the COP) since its inception. The COP was established in 1995 to address GHG emissions, and while initially much of the mitigation responsibility landed on developed nations, research shows that developing countries’ rapid technological expansion over the past decade has skyrocketed their emissions past the historic ranks. In fact, developing countries accounted for 63% of 2022 carbon emissions.
That’s why the transfer of ESTs is so critical in the fight against climate change. Technologies such as renewable energy, GMOs, and coastal erosion preventatives are often taken for granted in the developed world, but are paramount to facilitating the reduction of GHGs for countries rapidly gaining population. The Paris Agreement included specific provisions to achieve the “ultimate goal” of the Convention: to use the transfer of sustainable technologies to reduce GHG emissions and fully realize a world in which even the most vulnerable are resilient to climate change.
Outside of just the Paris Agreement, though, remain countless examples of technology transfer’s deep roots in climate policy: the Addis Agenda, Kyoto Protocol, and even the Adaptation Agenda of COP27 all include salient provisions to either emphasize or advance the transfer of ESTs to developing countries. Notably, 2010’s COP established the Technology Mechanism consisting of two bodies engaged shoulder to shoulder that provide policy and financial recommendations and technical assistance to developing countries, create access to (and expertise on) ESTs, and foster collaboration between international tech stakeholders.
However, technology transfer isn’t just a climate decision- it reflects a practical economic reality. Fossil fuels are increasingly more expensive, and the costs of mitigating devastating effects of climate change for vulnerable populations can prove ruinous. While subsidizing new technology in developing nations requires much consideration as to where the capital investments should land, the enormous investments in technology needed to cheaply reduce GHG emissions are dependent directly on the research-to-product pipeline of new tech underscored by technological transfer mechanisms.
However, if COP27 has given us one critical message to take home, it's that climate change is just that- change- and change requires adaptation. Technology transfer is far from flawless, and the numerous political hoops associated with international subsidies have slowed the necessary dissemination of knowledge and innovations. For example, the Clean Development Mechanism established in 1997 as the central instrument for transferring green technologies internationally has only produced measurable tech transfer from one tenth to one third of its countless high tech investment projects.
With each passing year, the human population grows exponentially- as does its increasing demand on the resources, atmosphere, and landscapes that surround it. The dissemination of new, sustainable technology from lab to launch is absolutely the most direct path towards creating an economically and environmentally resilient planet for us all.
Bronwyn Patterson is a second year student at the University of Pennsylvania studying Environmental Studies with a concentration in Sustainability and Management.