Quick start and challenges for UN’s tech transfer body

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Speed read

  • The climate tech centre is operational just over a year after it was approved
  • But there are fears that poor nations wanting help could struggle with red tape
  • And only three development institutions have been accepted to join the network

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The “lightning speed” with which a UN-led initiative to transfer technologies for tackling climate change to developing nations has been set up is impressive, but remaining challenges could prevent its success, a member of its advisory board says.

Difficulties in encouraging applications for technological assistance and concern about finding enough partners to build a viable international network of expertise were two issues raised at the third advisory board meeting of the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) in Copenhagen, Denmark, last month (19-21 March), says Heleen de Coninck.

The associate professor of innovation studies and sustainability at the Netherlands’ Radboud University Nijmegen and outgoing board member credits the CTCN’s relative autonomy from UN bodies for its rapid progress. It is now up and running with US$35 million of funding just over a year since it was approved at the UN climate change conference in Doha in late 2012.

“This has been set up at lightning speed for the UN. Everyone is admiring how quickly it has been achieved,” she tells SciDev.Net.

Under the auspices of the UN Environment Programme, the CTCN aims to provide developing nations with climate-related technology transfer and capacity building through the shared expertise of its 11 core research institutes and a wider network of partners.

After a planning phase, the network opened for applications for assistance in February. Several have now been received, including a request from Chile for expert assistance in setting up a biodiversity monitoring system, says de Coninck.

“This has been set up at lightning speed for the UN. Everyone is admiring how quickly it has been achieved.”

Heleen de Coninck, CTCN

But as the advisory board discussed, significant hurdles must be overcome before the initiative will bring benefits, she adds.

Firstly, encouraging each developing nation to set up an organisation — known as a national designated entity (NDE) — that is needed to submit requests could be a struggle, as the relevant government personnel are often from small departments with few resources and little time, and are rarely aware of the bureaucratic steps involved.

De Coninck suspects this will be the case because low-income countries were slow to submit applications to a similar initiative: the Clean Development Mechanism, a carbon trading scheme set up under the Kyoto Protocol that awards developing nations saleable credits for establishing emissions-reduction projects.

The introduction of training workshops for government officials interested in establishing an NDE was highlighted at the meeting as a positive step towards avoiding a similar scenario, she adds.The second potential pitfall raised by de Coninck was the difficulty of building a viable network of development institutions, with sufficient collaborators from the developing world.

She says it will be essential to actively recruit members and help them to apply.

With only three organisations having been accepted to join the network and six more having applied, there is still a long way to go and, as de Coninck points out, “without a network, there is no CTCN”.

This number is sure to grow as the body has already been approached by “many highly qualified institutions”, says the CTCN’s first director, Jukka Uosukainen, who was appointed in January.

Uosukainen says he is confident that the network’s proposed jargon-free communication strategy and his own personal outreach to existing and potential NDEs will mean the CTCN succeeds in building an extensive network.

Mark Bonner, who works on climate change initiatives at the Global CCS Institute — a non-profit company dedicated to accelerating the spread of carbon capture and storage technologies — sees the opening period of the CTCN as overwhelmingly positive.

Yet Bonner says the body is still well short of the US$100 million deemed necessary in its work plan for meeting its goals over the next five years. And he says the present network is far too limited to effectively respond to the full range of likely assistance requests.

For example, there is “little to no expertise” among its member research institutes and partners in clean fossil energy mitigation technologies, he says.