After Paris, keep the heat on

Now that the >Paris Conference of the Parties (COP) meet is long over, countries need to concentrate on global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which need to peak soon and go to zero by mid-century if there is to be a chance of preventing average temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above the level of pre-industrial times.

This is especially a >major challenge for the least developed countries and developing countries, as they need to provide an improved quality of life to millions of poor while reducing emissions and shifting to a new model of growth that is a low-carbon pathway. Many countries, including India, have a stated expectation that the country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) targets >can be met only if there is technological and financial support. Technology transfer may include one or more of the following kinds of processes: a transfer of manufacturing methods, skills, knowledge, supporting finance, and facilitation through institutional arrangements that enable such transfers. Technology transfer has been considered to be critical from the beginning of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and is part of the Convention under Article 4.5.

Access to technologies

Innovation and transfer of technologies are essential if we want rapid shifts to renewable energy systems worldwide. For example, commercially available crystalline silicon solar panels are on average about 15 per cent efficient. However, higher levels of efficiency (up to 45 per cent) have been demonstrated at laboratory scale in the U.S. and Europe. These are not yet commercially available. If India and other developing countries had access to these technologies, they could potentially leapfrog to an advanced stage of renewables, using less land area than currently needed. This does not mean disregarding intellectual property rights (IPR). But support for licensing fees or some such arrangement through financing could allow developing countries to not have to reinvent technologies that the world already has access to. Similarly, hybrid (petrol and electric) vehicles have been available in the U.S. for over a decade now, but are still not in the Indian market, even though they could enable a doubling of efficiency and vastly lower tailpipe emissions at a reasonable cost. In many States, the transport departments hesitate to purchase electric buses because of the prohibitive cost, mainly because of the battery cost.

Experience in innovation and technology has taught us that along with research and the technology itself, we need the right enabling environment that supports diffusion and uptake of technologies, markets, and supporting regulations and policies. For instance, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency gave meticulous attention to the dissemination of compact fluorescent lamps. It undertook a series of measures to enhance penetration, including large-scale procurement by the government, to ensure markets to manufacturers and, as a result, improved system-wide efficiencies. Similarly, novel business models undertaken by the government to promote Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs have resulted in a rapid decline of prices from Rs. 310 to Rs. 69 per bulb.

>Also read: Plan for Paris: looking beyond emission cuts

Every country has technology requirements that are quite specific to its priorities, opportunities and socio-economic circumstances. In the energy sector, India’s needs include highly efficient renewables, better storage technologies, smart grids, clean public transport, efficient para-transit modes such as autorickshaws, and improved efficiencies in micro, small and medium industries which employ large numbers of people. India also needs technologies for adaptation that are suitable to local impacts and conditions, since the effects of warming will be severe in the region. This combination of needs and challenges in different places across countries and ecosystems means that new climate technologies need special attention so that they can be readily adapted for local needs and deployed easily with a reasonable profit; they also need to be affordable to the most needy people.

The Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) and the Technology Executive Committee were set up under the Technology Mechanism in COP-16 in 2010. These were meant to facilitate technology transfer by providing information and technical assistance and fostering collaboration among experts through their network. There has been concern about the level of support for the CTCN and its activities, but its establishment has at least placed the issue of technology transfer under the UNFCCC. Various countries jointly launched Mission Innovation before the Paris COP in order to accelerate innovation in the energy sector. This will increase public investments, provide private investor support, increase transparency, and support implementation. Still, the mission’s goals are meant to promote innovation only in the medium to long term, and deliverables from investments in new technology development will, in any case, yield results slowly, over decades probably.

Given the short timeline over which the world needs to shift to zero emissions, these processes are too slow. In order to peak GHG emissions and adapt to a warmer climate, the world needs suitable technologies in order to make low-carbon transitions in development right now, not seven years after a global stocktake.

Paris deal and the future

COP-21 adopted the ‘Joint annual report of the Technology Executive Committee and the Climate Technology Centre and Network’. Under the Paris deal, there will be a framework to provide guidance for the technology mechanism, provide enhanced action on technology development and assess technologies ready for transfer. A link between financial and technology mechanisms has also been established, which should allow for collaboration in research and development. Whether this will go as far as India wanted in providing financial support to deal with IPR barriers in the future is not entirely clear.

It might be easier to grasp the linkages between energy efficiencies (therefore, mitigation) and technology needs. But a policy and regulatory regime that promotes innovation within countries, transfers suitable technologies from outside, and supports the equity-sensitive application of new technologies is important. For example, while it is important to promote and use solar pumps in agriculture in India, the crisis caused by over-extraction of groundwater and its contamination can only be addressed if regulation plays a critical role. Otherwise, the country would continue to overexploit groundwater with solar pumps. Understanding these linkages between technologies, policies and regulations and making appropriate institutional changes would be necessary for climate adaptation and climate friendly development.

(Sujatha Byravan is Principal Research Scientist at the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy, Bengaluru.)

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 5:00:29 PM |

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