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  • Building support for locally relevant climate tech

Climate Innovation Centers can promote clean technologies but need backing with a coordinated effort, says policy specialist Ambuj Sagar.

Technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help people to adapt to climate change will be a key part of how developing countries respond to the climate challenge. But the relatively limited capabilities of these countries mean using such technologies remains a major challenge.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is currently establishing a Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTC&N) to help poorer countries with the development and deployment of climate technologies.

SPEED READ

  • Developing countries must transition to using clean technologies to meet the climate challenge
  • Networks of organisations are being set up to help develop locally relevant clean technologies
  • These efforts will work only if they are used systematically, supported by funding and the right policies

The CTC&N aims to create a network of organisations within and across countries to provide advice to developing-country governments and enterprises on appropriate technologies. This will include advice on how they can develop and transfer (from North–South or South–South) environmentally sound technologies, and how to strengthen their decision-making about choosing and using technology.

These diverse functions of the CTC&N will no doubt be of great help to developing countries. Yet given the enormous gap between where we are today and what is needed in terms of making sure that these countries make the transition to clean technologies, we need a variety of approaches and activities that complement each other.

Starting local

A related approach, Climate Innovation Centers (CICs), is being explored by InfoDev, a World Bank programme that promotes information and communication technologies for development.

CICs aim to build capacity for locally relevant climate technologies by understanding innovation gaps for these technologies in the context of national resources, capabilities and institutions. [1]

The centres will then support activities that address the gaps between the technology and how it will be used (whether they are technological, financial, policy or informational) in a systematic and coordinated fashion, thereby leveraging a broader notion of 'innovation cooperation'.

InfoDev is aiming to build a global network of CICs, with the first centre in Kenya launched in September this year with initial funding of US$15 million over five years. The Kenyan CIC — developed in close consultation with more than 100 private, government, academic and nongovernmental stakeholders — is supported by the Danish government and the UK Department for International Development. [2]

The centre aims to provide a range of services to support clean tech firms, including advisory services and assistance for product development and commercialisation; providing information about advances in technologies and markets; and enabling appropriate changes in policy and regulatory frameworks.

It is important that the activities of the CICs are coordinated with national perspectives on climate action, as well as developmental needs. The initial three areas of the Kenyan CIC, for example, are agribusiness, renewable energy and water management.

Building local capacity is important. It helps to enhance the effectiveness of efforts to deploy technology (because of a more nuanced understanding of the local social, economic, business and policy conditions) and to make them sustainable in the long term.  

As and when other CICs are established, they should be able to promote cooperation across the developing world by sharing knowledge, best practice and even technologies. The CIC network will complement the overall UNFCCC technology network, so it is imperative that these two efforts are coordinated.

But even as we move forward with such initiatives, the broader outlook for the transition to climate technology in the developing world gives cause for concern.

Where's the money?

The kinds of initiatives mentioned above will be successful only if properly financed and with national policies in place that support the right kind of technology-investment decisions. 

Progress on this front has been mixed at best. Actual financial commitments from industrialised countries have fallen short of pledges [3], and even the pledges were criticised for not being sufficient to meet the urgent need to start reversing trends in emissions.

Unfortunately, the UN climate change meeting (COP 18) in Doha also disappointed on this front.

Even at the national level, the scale of these investments may well be inadequate to develop the pipeline of technologies needed to enable the necessary transition in technology, according to analysts. [4]

A major recent study also highlighted that although there has been a remarkable rise in new investments in renewable energy internationally, the recent weakening in policy support for renewable energy in many developed countries, has "put into jeopardy hopes that investment in clean energy will reach sufficient levels to start to reduce global carbon emissions before 2020". [5]

In fact, as the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2012 notes, the world is still failing to put the global energy system onto a more sustainable path. That is worrisome indeed. Under one of the IEA's energy projections, the New Policies Scenario, the global energy supply system requires investment of more than US$37 trillion between 2012 and 2035, with about 60 per cent of this estimated to be in non-OECD countries.

As these investments are made, it is critical to ensure that they are aligned with climate and development objectives. 

But this can happen only if the right technology development and deployment policies are in place — and organisations like CICs play a key role in this. They can provide the support the developing world needs to make a transition to clean technology.

Ambuj Sagar is the Vipula and Mahesh Chaturvedi Professor of Policy Studies at the Indian Institute of Technology.

References

[1] Ambuj Sagar and Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Climate Innovation Centres: A New Way to Foster Climate Technologies in the Developing World (The World Bank, 2010)

[2] Kenya Climate Innovation Center launches (InfoDev, 2012)

[3] Ciplet, D. et al. The eight unmet promises of fast-start climate finance IIED briefing (2012)

[4] A Business Plan for America's Energy Future (Report, American Energy Innovation Council, 2010)

[5] Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2012 (Report, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, UNEP and the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, 2012)