What's with the Climate?

Voices of a Subcontinent grappling with Climate Change


Intellectual Property, Technology Transfer and India’s Climate Strategy

File:San Gorgonio Pass Wind Power Plants.jpg

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.


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Dispatch from Pakistan: Women most affected by climate change

By Sonia Malik

File Photo from Reuters

For woman in rural areas, the consequences of climate change have been a sharp increase in their daily workload and a host of health and social issues, according to a study conducted in Shaheed Benazirabad, formerly Nawabshah, district in Sindh.

Climate Change and Women: A Study, conducted by Shirkat Gah, assesses the impact of changing weather in four flood-affected villages, particularly on women. According to the study, yet to be published,the heavy floods of 2010 and 2011 affected women more than men as it had resulted in an increase in their workload.

A report cited in the study estimated that the floods affected 51 per cent of the women in the district and 40 per cent of the men. About 3.6 million women in Sindh were affected by the floods in 2010 and 2011, of whom 133,000 were pregnant at the time.

Since the floods, women in these villages have been travelling to other villages to find work such as cotton harvesting, while continuing with their household chores and home-based work like embroidery to make extra money.

The floods wiped away most crops, meaning families needed money to buy vegetables and grains previously available in the fields. The loss of a substantial portion of agricultural land meant more labour was required, so women were spending more time in the fields alongside men than before, in addition to their usual tasks.

Many women complained that the rise in heat intensity over the summer and loss of livestock in the floods meant they had to rise earlier to ground and knead flour, cook, fetch water from wells, buy firewood from markets, clean the house, and then also help in the field. Rising temperatures, coupled with poor diet, made it especially hard for women to work in the fields as well as do house chores. Continue reading


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दलों का दलदल

(We are all trapped in the quicksand of political parties)

Elections have just concluded in 5 of the 30 states of India.  There has been a record turnout of youth and women voters this election season.  In Delhi alone, youth voters turned out in historical numbers pushing the total number of voters to 65% (the maximum before this was 61.8% in 1993).  While the allure of new political winds ushered in by the arrival of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) (The Common Man’s Party) may have driven some of the enthusiasm in a population beleaguered by poor governance and the false prophets of established political parties, let’s hope that these demographic shifts are here to stay.  And why shouldn’t youth be engaged?  After all, it is their future that is being whittled away by career politicians who are happy to sell the ecological wealth on which their livelihoods will depend.

So why do Indian political parties fail to acknowledge the need for environmental conservation in their campaigns? Article 48(A) of Part IV of the Indian constitution reads: “The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.”  In no political party’s manifesto is it apparent that the political class has thought clearly about the matter.  If we can thank anyone for the protection of any ounce of our nation’s ecological capital (from a legal/governance perspective) it is the Supreme Court which has been cited as the greenest court in the world.

Why the empty promises of 30% reduced electricity tariffs which will only further bleed our utilities dry and leave them with no revenue to innovate for the future much less provide reliable access?  Why promise 700 liters of free potable water when you have a fetid and dead river that flows through your city (and there’s hardly any ground water left)?  Why promise new sewage treatment plants when billions of dollars have been spent on sewage treatment plants already and while we still have over 50% of our untreated sewage making its way to the river?  Who needs “Statehood” for what should be the most easily governed unit in the whole Republic of India?  You want to set up child-friendly courts for crimes against children?  How about one that will ensure that these children have their right to life and livelihood protected by having a firm foundation (environment) in place by the time they grow up?  You want a monorail?  Did you forget about the ring rail that is hardly used?  How about refurbishing that and integrating it with the metro system (and continuing to build the Bus Rapid Transit)?  These populous promises mean nothing.  Meanwhile Delhi and India at large are headed nowhere, very fast.  Think about that the next time you are caught in traffic and choking on the ever-increasing fumes while mantri’s whiz past you in their luxury vehicles.

  By Supriya Singh and Kartikeya Singh