At the beginning of this week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed the Tokyo Declaration along with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, mentioning among other things, the decision to “spur cooperation… in cutting edge fields such as…clean and renewable energy, water technology, climate change science and outer space”. The recently concluded meeting comprising leaders of Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC), at New Delhi, there was discussion on the approach of the BASIC countries for the 2015 Paris CoP, with an emphasis on how developed countries must fulfill their obligation towards developing countries in the form of funding, technology and support for capacity building.
We are seeing a greater emphasis on the need for technological self-sufficiency in India’s negotiating stance. This is because, the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy is the quintessential solution to the mammoth task of emission reductions, and this shift will occur only through large scale investment in R&D and manufacture of accessible green technology. At the climate talks in Warsaw in 2013, India reiterated the need for financing for green technology along with transfer of patents by developed nations to help developing nations achieve their Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs).
From what we have observed through the several rounds of negotiations taking place, India and other Like Minded Developing Countries have consistently pushed for the removal of intellectual property barriers for renewable energy technology in order to aid their domestic climate action. However, this has been equally opposed by the United States, Canada, European Union and Switzerland, citing that intellectual property rights were not hampering technology transfer, but the removal of the same would have a negative impact on innovation and inhibit technology transfer, which would be undesirable to the global community.
In light of this debate, it is crucial to examine the relevance of intellectual property rights in achieving the larger goals of climate action. It has been argued that patents comprise only a small fraction of the cost of developing renewable energy technology and that removing patent protection for the same would not affect the total cost greatly. Patents must be accompanied by technical capacity, expertise and trade secrets in order to be successful. Currently, developing countries are placing a disproportionate emphasis on patents in the international negotiation process, which might just result in a forced and ineffective regime.
Also, we need to keep in mind the massive venture capital required to operate renewable energy companies and encourage innovation, which is something that cannot be achieved if innovation is not incentivised. I believe that removing or relaxing the patent regime is not the best method to achieve technology transfer, except maybe in very limited areas such as bio-fuels. Moreover, under the obligations of the Montreal Protocol we have seen the successful international diffusion of substitutes for ozone-depleting substances while keeping patent protection in place.
Therefore, India should not place inordinate importance on patents within the technology transfer debate during climate negotiations. Instead, there must be emphasis on removing economic barriers to technology diffusion and this can be achieved by more intergovernmental public private partnerships and investment in developing nations in the development process, along with voluntary dissemination of climate related technology through Climate Technology Centre and Network under the UNFCCC. The UNEP Finance Initiative is also an effective way of ensuring international funding in domestic renewable energy ventures.
Which is why the Tokyo Declaration is significant because it marks a welcome change from an patent based approach to technology transfer to an approach which recognises the importance of joint research laboratories and growing collaboration in developing climate friendly technologies between India and Japan. One hopes that the upcoming negotiations in Lima will adopt this rationale in international technology transfer between developed and developing countries.