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Tech Transfer Stymied by Lack of Climate Funding from Rich

DOE's Latest Financing Plan Just a Drop in the Bucket

By Stacy Feldman

Dec 14, 2009

Reporting from Copenhagen

Deploying low-carbon technology in all nations is considered vital to slowing global warming, but little progress has been made so far at the Copenhagen climate talks on "technology transfer" deals that could bring high-tech to the poor.

A lack of climate funding commitments by the rich countries is holding up discussions.

"It's hard to know what's possible in terms of tech transfer — and what can actually be done — until you know how much [money] you have," Victor Menotti, executive director of the International Forum on Globalization, told Solve Climate in an interview.

There are no long-term dollar figures on the table yet for paying for a wider global warming pact. The $350 million, five-year energy efficiency effort U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced this morning is barely a drop in the bucket when experts estimate that tens of billions of dollars in financing and technology will be needed every year.

The result of this lack of money, said Menotti, is that "almost nothing important" has been agreed on technology transfer.

The world's clean technology solutions are in the hands of the richest states. These nations also have the financial means to invent and develop the technologies of the energy future.

A transfer framework would level the playing field with poorer nations by requiring industrialized nations to pass on their clean energy know-how, technologies and manufacturing methods to developing states.

The scheme is not just wishful thinking, but a under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — the seeds of which were planted back in the 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

"This is not new, and it's not aid," said Menotti.

As part of the Rio Declaration, world governments, including the U.S., agreed that wealthy countries must deliver the money and technology to fight climate change. This was reaffirmed in the 2007 Bali Action Plan signed by then-President George W. Bush.

For the poor, tech transfer is about more than combating climate change; it's about economic development. A successful deal would boost clean energy R&D in developing economies and teach them how to manage technologies — on the dime of the wealthy.

In practical terms, this means an African nation could acquire the capacity to set up solar panel assembling and manufacturing plants, for instance.

For the exploding U.S. solar industry, tech transfer is seen as vital in getting relatively high global solar power costs on par with cheap coal.

"We think it's important that you have solar manufacturing plants throughout the world. You achieve better cost efficiencies for solar by manufacturing close to where the product is consumed." Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, told SolveClimate.

The exact dollar figure needed to set a tech transfer deal in motion is not clear. Since developing technology is wrapped up with every aspect of combating climate, it's piece of the pie would be large. The total costs of reversing warning in the long run could be up to $200 billion a year by 2020, according to UN figures.

The commitments on the table in Copenhagen are miles away from that. So far, $10 billion a year over three years in fast-start financing has been proposed. The insufficient amount has earned the package the nickname "fast-finish" funding from green groups.

Menotti told SolveClimate that the quickest way to unclog tech transfer talks is for nations to put on the table a range of figures on long-term financing, with the U.S. leading the charge.

"The U.S. is the indispensable 800 pound gorilla in the whole deal," said Menotti. "It's the biggest financier, the one who can make a difference."

Hurdles Abound

green tech & green jobs

These technology transfers are an interesting idea for leap-frogging poorer countries into the green tech revolution, but subsidies and funding will have to accompany new technologies if the global climate is to be addressed.

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