Ready but waiting

After 17 years of negotiations between 193 countries and the European Union, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is almost ready with a mechanism by which clean and green technologies can be transferred to poor countries at little or no cost. But the formation of the mechanism is being held hostage to progress on other more contentious issues now under discussion at the annual UNFCCC summit in Mexico’s beach resort city Cancún.
Poor countries have long clamoured for concessional access to technologies that will allow them to move to a cleaner development path while enabling them to handle the effects of climate change too. But agreement has repeatedly foundered because many of the technologies belong to private firms, which have patented them, and no government can do anything about that.
During 2010, there was a proposal that countries negotiating under the UNFCCC process should leave intellectual property rights (IPR) aside for the time being, and concentrate on the technologies that could be distributed.
The negotiators have now agreed that they will form an executive committee for this purpose, and designate technology centres worldwide, from which these green technologies can be distributed. There is still disagreement on whether these centres should be independent or under the control of the committee. The United States wants them to be independent, but most other countries disagree. However, this is an issue that most negotiators expect to be able to resolve in the next few days at Cancún.
An Indian government official who has been in the technology-transfer negotiations for well over a decade said: “Finally, I’m cautiously optimistic that it will come through.”
But there is nothing these bureaucrats can do to announce the formation of the mechanism, because there is no agreement on whether industrialised countries will commit to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol after 2012. And the UNFCCC negotiating process is one where “nothing is agreed till everything is agreed”, as an American diplomat put it.