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India Summit Strives for Global Access to Climate-Friendly Technologies

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Anna da Costa

India hosted a high-level technology summit in Delhi last week with the aim of supporting progress toward a global agreement on "climate-friendly" technologies.

Among the areas of consensus outlined in the summit's final statement, several governments expressed interest in a network of technology innovation centers.

"The notion that we should have global centers for climate technology innovation is an important idea that has found its place in the declaration," said Jairam Ramesh, India's Minister for Environment and Forests, who noted that the summit made progress on several key topics that will confront governments at the U.N. climate negotiations held in Copenhagen, Denmark, this December.

Climate-friendly technologies and methods to facilitate their rapid uptake, especially in developing countries, are at the center of global climate negotiations. These technologies, which include solar power, smart grid, and carbon sequestration mechanisms, enable the use of clean and renewable power, greater energy and water efficiency, and more sustainable agricultural practices. They also include technologies that support adaptation to the increasing impacts of climate change.

"Vast reservoir" of innovation

Hosted jointly by India's Ministry of Environment and Forests and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the summit was attended by 58 visiting delegations, of which 30 were at the ministerial or vice-ministerial level, as well as by technology experts and representatives of government, industry, and civil society. At an accompanying exhibition, 148 companies showcased green technology developments from around the world.

The proposed innovation centers would allow globally available technologies to be adapted to local conditions and situations, Ramesh said. Such a network would draw on the "vast reservoir" of models of technology cooperation initiated by whatever agreement is reached in Copenhagen.

"We need innovation cooperation, shaped by local needs and rooted in the local context," said Ambuj Sagar, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, who is developing the proposal. "This needs us to think about the whole innovation cycle, one that is driven by technology needs of developing countries rather than the technological agenda of industrialized countries."

Jonathan Pershing, U.S. Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, also proposed creating a "hub and core" of expertise and best practice that could become a global resource for policymakers and implementers to exchange information and experience.

"We are looking to build capacity and provide additional training with regard to these kinds of technologies," Pershing said.

Such a center - or centers - would have a physical presence, he said. The main goal would be to provide "information, tools, and practical expertise" for environmentally sustainable technologies for mitigation and adaptation. In addition, there would be a "core" group of technical experts, practitioners, and specialists able to travel to and deliver expertise to any specific country.

Cooperative clean energy relationships were also established at the meeting. These included a technology cooperation agreement between India and Norway, a memorandum of understanding on smart-grid collaboration between British and Indian industry, and an announcement by Philip Hunt, Minister of State for the U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change, that his country intends to establish three centers of innovation worldwide, including one in India. The International Energy Agency also highlighted its recently launched global forum for International Low Carbon Energy Technology collaboration.

The summit came in the wake of an earlier agreement on climate change cooperation signed between India and China last week, which includes the intention to collaborate on technology development and demonstration in various sectors.

Intellectual property dilemma

Summit participants achieved less consensus on the issue of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), in particular how to deploy climate-friendly technologies rapidly and at scale while still allowing for fair compensation. Poorer countries seeking to use these technologies argue that they will, in many cases, be hindered by the high costs payable to innovating individuals or organizations. In the past, mechanisms have been created to circumvent such costs when particular technologies serve the greater good, for example with HIV drugs.

"Climate-friendly and environmentally sound technologies should be viewed as global public goods," said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the opening of the conference. "[T]his means IPR should balance rewards for innovators with the need for the common good of mankind."

To this end, India restated its proposal for the establishment of a global fund to purchase such IPRs and distribute them as global goods where they are needed.

"We do not see why we cannot balance the interests [of the innovator] with the interests of humanity as a whole. Why can't we use the international agreement to create a mechanism through which these technologies can be purchased and made available through public goods. Is that not possible?" asked Shyam Saran, India's Special Envoy for Climate Change.

Vijay Sharma, Secretary of India's Ministry of Environment and Forests, said at the conference's close that discussions remained inconclusive on this point, and that the issue would "have to be further considered before a conclusion is reached."

Finding the money

Mechanisms to finance the upfront costs of rapid and sufficient technology deployment also remain a major stumbling block. Although no concrete decisions were made at the summit, speakers highlighted the importance of industrial countries coming forward with funds.

"Developed countries must step forward with financial support," said Solheim. "Such technologies are not available at affordable costs, for developing countries, especially the Least Developed Countries."

For India alone, McKinsey and Co. has estimated that as much as US$49.2 billion annually in technology investments would be needed to support halving emissions by 2030. Globally, such investments would near $600-700 billion per year, and at least double this figure by 2030, according to Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Deputy Director of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Speakers also highlighted the importance of engaging the private sector and encouraged governments to create the right incentive systems to absorb the technologies and to start implementing the technologies to bring down costs.

"The private sector has the resources," said Richard Jones, Deputy Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, who explained the importance of creating the right political and market signals for investment. "[Businesses] have to buy in. Unless they believe in the program, it won't take off."

Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives, left delegates with a stirring message of leadership, saying that countries with the foresight to "green" themselves today would be the leaders of tomorrow. He encouraged all nations to take bold steps to signal their wish to shift toward a green economy.

A low-lying island nation, the Maldives is on the frontline of climate change impacts. A temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius is predicted to raise sea levels enough to submerge the country. Highlighting national plans to become carbon neutral in a decade, Nasheed said, "in the Maldives, we want to focus less on our plight and more on our potential."

Nasheed called on India to take leadership in the same way, praising the country's recently announced solar strategy. "India led the world in the 1970s in the green agricultural revolution," he said, proposing that the country now lead the world in the "green power revolution."

This piece originally appeared in worldwatch.org

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