An emissions solution: Get technology transfer right

by Peter L. Kelley, AWEA Vice President for Public Affairs

New international institutions are being invented to transfer the technology that reduces global warming emissions.

How to do that has emerged as a key issue in the climate talks in Mexico, and leading area in which they could actually produce results later this week.

“It’s a bear of a negotiation, but we think it’s actually very interesting and quite exciting, because for the first time the Framework Convention is starting to tear down some of these walls and provide the technology to reduce emissions,” Drew Nelson, a top U.S. climate negotiator, told business leaders convened by the U.S. Department of Commerce this morning in Cancun.

To start with, Nelson said, “climate technology is almost infinite, so you’re not going to be able to have just one solution.”

Then, he added, there’s the issue of intellectual property – and preserving enough rights that private developers still have the incentive to research and develop more, and not just give the technology away to nations that need it.

Two institutions are under negotiation, he said:

1. A “technology executive committee,” which the U.S. delegation envisions as a global think tank on technology issues: What works, why does it work, and where does it work?

2. A Climate Technology Center & Network (CTC&N), which would act as a traffic cop, with access to outside companies, academics, and NGO.

A country that has no idea what its wind resource is, for example, or how to develop it, would go to the CTC&N, which could help build the capacity for that country – and in the process, produce a proposal for the $100 billion Green Fund proposed at the Copenhagen accords.

Governments and emissions markets would supply the money, although developing nations now want more – $300 billion, or even up to 6% of developed nations’ GDP.

None of the money has been raised, Nelson said. Also, the architecture of the groups, or even where they would be housed, has yet to be determined.

Meanwhile, the chorus of countries who will be heavily impacted by climate change in the near term is growing. First it was the small island states, which rising seas will wash away. Now, he said, a new group has emerged: mountainous landlocked countries, which depend on glaciers for their drinking water, agriculture, electricity, and development.

The United States is seeking a “balanced outcome” from the climate talks, in which developed countries commit to goals, and the developing world commits to actions. Even once the existing Kyoto accord expires at the end of 2012, a “border tax adjustment” could help address unfair trade advantages by a country that doesn’t act against global warming, if the United States has.

Domestically, the U.S. Administration has set a goal of cutting emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.

That is still doable, Nelson said, even without a bill in Congress to put a price on carbon. One reason is that a separate treaty, the Montreal Protocol, can yet be used to reduce refrigerants that are such potent sources of warming that they could be 20% or more of the problem within 20 years.

The harder part is the long term – cutting emissions 80% by 2050 will require pricing carbon in the U.S. and national commitments by the major economies of the world.

“We’ve got a whole host of programs that are unilateral,” he said, “but they don’t get us to the reductions that are necessary to avoid climate change.”

He asked business to keep explaining to Congress the investment opportunity posed by renewable energy and climate solutions: “It’s one thing for a government bureaucrat to say it’s great for business, and another thing for you to say, ‘actually, yeah, it is.’”

Peter L. Kelley is attending the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP-16) on climate change, in Cancun, Mexico.

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