progress will have been made in the global governance arrangements that address
climate change through the promotion of climate-related technology-transfer.
Promoting technology-transfer involves sharing technological knowledge
to make it easier for a country to deploy technologies from other countries or
to develop their own. There are already early indications of cooperation
between countries in the management of intellectual property for
climate-related technologies. This can be seen in the challenge being mounted to
current multilateral agreements. International institutions and the
multilateral agreements that they espouse are influential in shaping the "rules
of play" in a particular global governance issue area.
The central institution in setting the international rules for technology-transfer is The World Trade Organisation (WTO). The WTO is responsible for overseeing the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) which has placed limitations on the free flow of technological knowledge through universally standardized patent protection across its 140 members. TRIPS, however, is beginning to be challenged in the context of climate change. Exemptions from patentability and exceptions to patent rights and compulsory licences are available through the "TRIPS flexibilities" clause in the agreement. The notable example of these flexibilities being used is the Doha Declaration in 2001, where WTO members stated that TRIPS should be supportive of public health goals and not prevent access to medicine.
The prospect of flexibilities being applied to the context of climate change technology was indicated at the 2007 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference in Bali. The Brazilian Foreign Minister proposed that a "similar statement to the Doha Declaration... be considered in the climate change context." The European Parliament has also recommended looking at amendments to TRIPS allowing compulsory licensing of "environmentally necessary technologies".
However, it is the major actors -- developed countries and multinational corporations (MNC) -- who will determine how far cooperation in climate-related technology will go. Climate change affects all countries and thus requires cooperation from all in order to be possible. Despite this, at the UNFCC some parties were concerned that "flexibilities may be insufficient to ensure the rapid and widespread transfer of technology." Despite persuasive incentives for countries to cooperate, powerful private sector interests demand protection of intellectual property.
Climate-related technology is big business. The key trends for the climate change sector are wind and solar power, and both markets are growing rapidly. The World Bank has described the wind power market in their International Trade and Climate Change report, published this year, as being dominated by "large equipment manufacturers like GE and Siemens." Similarly, the global manufacturers of solar PV technologies are MNCs such as Sharp, Kyocera, and BP Solar are based in developed countries.
What should be happening is even growth in the production and deployment of such technologies in developed and developing countries so that climate change can be addressed on a global basis. At the moment there is still a lot of ground to catch up on, with China being the only developing country to have become a major player in these industries. When committing to climate change targets, the danger is that developed countries will try to transfer the cost of this burden to developing countries and expropriate the benefits of new business opportunities. Powerful companies can lobby their governments to protect their business interests through intellectual property protection. Such an outcome must be avoided in up-and-coming international climate change agreements in Copenhagen in 2009 in order to challenge TRIPS and offer new arrangements for cooperation.
Developing country negotiators need to be fully informed and equipped in order to pursue their interests. International institutions can assist by regulating the unequal lobbying power of powerful MNCs in the climate change arena. This requires the setting of a fair agenda, resources for developing countries and steering so that business interests do not dictate the proceedings.
Sam Vanderslott is a Masters student in Global Governance and Diplomacy at the University of Oxford. Her research interests include intellectual property, business regulation and public-private partnerships.
This article has been shortlisted for the Atlantic Community's "Global Governance in 2020" student competition.
The Atlantic Community's World Economic Forum Focus Week (Jan 22 - Jan 28)
This article is part of the Atlantic Community's World Economic Forum Focus Week in a 5 day run-up to the WEF Davos Conference (conference begins Wed 28 January). We are focusing on two of the most pressing aspects of the conference: the Global Economy and Climate Change.
Other articles in our series on WEF:
- Jordan Levine: Socioecological Innovation: an Alternative Future
- Yam Ki Chan: Unipolarity's Days Are Numbered
- Scott E. Hartley: Political Liberalism At the Heart of International Trade
- Alyssa M. Ramsey: Human Rights: A Matter of Guiding the Invisible Hand
- Scott Michael Moore: A Multidimensional Approach For a Planet in Peril
- Dr. Luke Nichter: Redefining the IMF
From the discussion on the community page we will generate a special Atlantic Memo that will be distributed to WEF organizers and to decision makers worldwide at the start of the conference. Please share your comments on the recommendations and issues raised in this article. We want to know how you think the WEF Davos Conference should approach the climate change challenge.
- Do private sector interests in climate change techonology need to controlled?
- What can the WEF do to facilitate cooperation on climate change? How can the imbalance between developed and developing states be addressed?