Clean technology transfer: a private sector issue


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Now in its second week, the UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) in Nairobi is focusing on three issues:

  • the creation of a climate change adaptation fund
  • a better geographical distribution of the Clean Development Mechanism (i.e. there’s too little of it in Africa), and
  • the transfer of clean technologies from North to South.

Although the last point is considered here a governmental issue, I would argue it is truly a private sector one. Why?

Previous governmental attempts have failed: years ago the World Trade Organization started looking at intellectual property issues in technology transfer. It went nowhere, simply because intellectual property belongs to private businesses that ain’t gonna give it away for free.

Here at UNFCCC, the proposal is for governments to buy intellectual property rights. Two reasons why I believe this is a bad idea: a lot of the clean technology is in fact not that new and no longer under patent protection. An efficient gas boiler? An efficient heating system? Hardly top-notch technology. Second, plenty of private clean technology vendors would be delighted to invest in developing countries, to build partnerships with local companies. What are they waiting for? A lot is
actually happening, but when it’s not, it’s usually because the investment
climate is difficult.

Join the Conversation

Derek Newberry
November 14, 2006

One point that also gets lost in this debate is the increasing levels of clean tech R&D in the global "South" itself. Sooner or later, some of the developing world's economic powerhouses may not have to rely on the "North" for tech transfer. The Chinese example is particularly striking - see this posting on Worldwatch ( for an overview on what the government is involved in, and then check out this company…) for a great example of a private business benefiting from these public efforts.