Demystifying something called ‘technology transfer’ will be absolutely critical to the Paris Agreement’s success.
Make no mistake about it, we can’t deal with climate change without technology transfer. It is so important, that the historic climate deal struck in Paris last year includes a specific article about it – the mysterious Article 10.
Many of the world’s current, carbon intensive technologies are part of the cause of climate change. New technologies are needed to bring down greenhouse gas emissions, and to deal with the effects of climate change that are already occurring.
It is crucial that we innovate to turn things around, and make sure everyone has access to new technologies by transferring innovations within economies and between countries.
If we don’t do that, there will be little chance of keeping global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius. Let alone below 1.5 degrees, as envisaged in the agreement.
Hardware, Software And Orgware
So what kind of technologies are we talking about here?
The UN’s official definition says “technology is a piece of equipment, technique, practical knowledge or skills for performing a particular activity,” which means that virtually anything can be considered technology.
Not just hardware and software count as technology. Orgware – which defines how we work as people and organisations – is also a critical component.
The process of transferring these technologies between people, businesses and governments is known as technology transfer.
Traditionally, this has been considered as a one-time, one-directional transaction where a researcher or company has the knowledge others plan to utilise, replicate or develop further.
The source of this knowledge was the researcher, or the more technologically advanced company.
Patent agreements, standardised intellectual property regulations and special technology transfer offices at research universities facilitated the individual exchanges, and supported everyone involved.
New Global Priorities
But the global economy has long passed beyond this point and technology and knowledge are now exchanged in more complex transactions.
We have come to realise that unless we move away from dependency – and respond to the needs and priorities of the technology recipient – we will not be able to move innovation to the next level.
This means that communication is no longer one-directional. Instead, it is has become an exchange of knowledge.
An ongoing relationship between the researchers and companies involved in technology transfer is also key to making the transaction work, and creates trust for future collaborations.
Knowledge is multi-faceted. It rarely happens that one researcher or company has all the answers to a problem. Cooperation between a larger number of businesses and scholars is the new norm.
How to Make it Work
While preparing for the implementation of Article 10, governments around the world should keep the complexity of modern-day technology transfer in mind.
It is not only difficult for governments to promote technology transfer through new policies, there are also significant risks of over-regulation for individual transactions. Every transaction is different, every project has different stakeholders and different arrangements between them.
So what’s the plan under the Paris Agreement? Well, Article 10 establishes a global Technology Mechanism that will be supported by the UN’s Technology Executive Committee (TEC) in terms of policy guidance. It will rely on the UN’s Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) to oversee the practical implementation.
Both organisations have been developed in the last five years and form the implementation arm of the UN’s climate change operations. They focus on higher-level strategy and provide an overall framework for the governments and organisations who will be executing the agreement on the ground.
Great, you may think, so we’ve got new mechanisms, committees and networks – but how can they make technology transfer work? The answer lies in making sure they run on the latest orgware.
Partnerships as a Solution
Here in Europe, I’ve had the privilege to witness that knowledge exchange can be promoted in simple and straightforward ways when done right.
Collaborative action thrives within a certain pan-European community of businesses, universities and sub-national governments: Climate-KIC, the EU’s climate change innovation initiative launched in 2010.
The EU-supported partnership brings together demand and supply side parties from all sectors across Europe. The trust between the partners makes mutual learning possible, and speeds up implementation and scaling for impact.
Regulation of intellectual property issues is often named as one of the key barriers to successful technology transfer. Facilitated collaboration within a partnership environment eliminates this challenge as well, because all parties have equal power in negotiating their respective agreements.
If the UN’s TEC and CTCN will be able to deploy innovative partnership orgware at the core of their framework for collaborative action and knowledge exchange – and fully use the knowledge and networks that already exists around the world – the implementation of Article 10 could be achieved a lot faster and more effectively than currently imagined.
Since time is not a luxury we have, we’d better get on with it! Climate-KIC certainly is, and will be at the COP22 climate summit in Marrakesh to help further demystify 21st-century technology transfer.
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