Email from Servaas van den Bosch, Namibian journalist, 18 Nov. 09
Dear Mr. Gutschick,
My name is Servaas, I am a reporter for Inter Press Service and will be covering COP 15 with the climate change media partnership. I got your details from Mike Shanahan's (IIED) roster of experts. For an article on clean technology transfers, that will run soon, I am looking for your opinion. I hope you have time to briefly comment on the questions below.
Perhaps you can help me with a quick comment on the following:
Q: What, according to you, are the main challenges (IPRs, financing, implementation etc.) in reaching a deal on transfer of green technology at the moment and how can they possibly be overcome?
My reply, 18 Nov. 09
Dear Servaas (if I may call you by your given name),
I'm very pleased that you've asked my opinion on this matter of such great consequence. The question is rarely asked so clearly, and I'll do my best to answer it. I admit to a background that is heavily in science and technology, not in economics and policy, but I follow the issues.
answer is that there is one overwhelming challenge in reaching a deal on the
transfer of green technology: each party (nation) will find it extremely
difficult to come to its own coherent policy and thus to speak with one
voice. The difficulty will be amplified
by the need to adjust one's policy as negotiations proceed. I think of my own nation, the
1) It's not just about conflicting goals among the partners on one side (in one nation); it's also a matter of "language" differences among the groups. Let me offer an example from my own experience. From 1991-94, I had a research grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). I visited my program officer one day and he told me a story about a meeting that he organized to bring together atmospheric scientists and climate modellers - two groups that are very close in the questions they ask and the methods they use. However, it took the entire first half-day for them to realize that what one group called a model (a coherent set of concepts and embodying equations) was what the other group called a parametrization (setting a few numbers within a model). If they are so close scientifically but had this much trouble communicating, think of the difficulty of getting economists to talk to climate modellers, security policy experts to talk to financial experts or environmental regulators, and so on.
I won't expand on the topic of conflicting goals among the partners within a nation, since they are rife and many are well-known (e.g., security experts arguing against technology exporting, while business groups argue for export sales).
2) The range of disciplines needed in a negotiating team is unprecedentedly large. Green technology alone embraces primary energy technology (liquid fuel and electric power production), but also industrial process technology, building technology, and water supply technology. Primary energy technology alone itself mixes in many issues (I made a quick outline of the issues to be addressed, which I appended after this text so as not to break the flow of the ideas; I hope there is a flow here!). There are a few polymaths who grasp a number of disciplines that address issues to be negotiated - perhaps one finds a nuclear engineer who has also a real grasp of finance, negotiating protocols, and the history of technology. They are few, in any nation. They are also unable to cover even a modest fraction of the range of disciplines needed. . As a result, there is no one that a lead negotiator can turn to on the spur of the moment (or even with a willingness to wait a day or a week) and ask for a summary, across all the issues, of the net impact of a given point of negotiation.
3) Related to the breadth of the issues, but a challenge in itself, is the unprecedented magnitude of the task. We are not asking for a cross-Atlantic agreement, or a Pan-Pacific agreement, or an agreement among industrial nations. We are asking for a set of agreements that must be worldwide and that requires each nation to remake its policies on primary energy (extraction, generation, use), finance, and environment. Compared to this, past international collaborations such as Bretton Woods, ASEAN, OPEC, or the Marshall Plan look like child's play.
How can we
overcome this difficulty in the transfer of green energy? I think we need a few "honest
brokers" - and multi-competent brokers - from a few major blocs, which
include the industrial nations, the developing giants
Appendix, of sorts: issues in green energy technology transfer
property rights & past R&D investment - developers of the new
technologies such as modern wind turbines (
Financial meltdown - not the biggest problem; probably only 2-5 years for recovery, while green technology development is a 30+ - year project
More, mode of recovery from it - financiers are prone to pursue business as usual and most will view the technologies as just another investment, rather than a fundamental reworking of both finance and energy
Life-cycle costing - what is the real
cost, capital + operational+maintenance? The methods are now well developed to do such
cost analysis, and there are mandates in legislation, even in the
Incl. subsidies - what is the true long-term value of subsidies to advance the learning curve that reduces the costs of the new technologies
Balance of trade - nations do not agree on the proper (im)balance of trade
External costs - as of pollution during manufacturing. Even semiconductor manufacture, such as for solar photovoltaic cells, is more or less messy, with groundwater pollution from the use of etchants (NF3) and solvents for cleaning (chlorinated organics). External costs will have to be subsumed into new technologies - and old technologies, too! We need to charge coal production and use for stream pollution, CO2 emission, mercury emissions, and more. Industries naturally fight this, so that national mandates are absolutely essential.
Are the technologies "ripe" and do
they have acceptable life-cycle costs and savings in the medium term of, say,
10-30 years? Does any nation, investing
in R&D, want to pick the winners in advance? The
Integration into existing infrastructure. Contrast the electricity grids in the
Does a given nation admit to its quantitative role in global warming and greenhouse gas emission?
Money supply, national debt management - new technologies will incur debt obligations on national scales
Currency valuation - a bone of
Strategic policy - there are defense and
resource vulnerabilities in both forgoing and adopting the new
technologies. E.g., rare earth supplies
for magnets in electric drives of new vehicles are predominantly in
Sovereignty - this issue is raised with
appalling frequency, esp. by the
interests - primarily the current purveyors of old energy and resource
technologies, such as Exxon Mobil as a notorious case. I don't know the quantitative figures, but I suspect
Environmental impacts - acknowledged and not acknowledged
Land use and water use - solar power uses a great deal of land area, and biofuels use unconscionable amounts of water for irrigation. Wind power uses land area and kills bats and birds. Our old technologies were relatively benign in both of these regards (see my writeup at http://gcconsortium.com/academic_page/Water-energy.html), but we have to give them up for their adverse and soon-irreversible effects on climate. We have to accept some new unpleasantries, and this will take public education on a massive scale.
Virtual water (biofuels) - a nation can buy biofuels made in another nation, with the water costs borne in that other nation. This is termed virtual water use, in the current food system. There is very little "freeboard" to do this with biofuels on any practical scale.
True GHG accounting (again, biofuels) - many studies have come out on this, esp. from the BP-funded energy institutes at the University of Illinois and the University of California, Berkeley. Land clearance for biofuel crops can generate the emission of as much CO2 as up to 95 years of biofuel production. True accounting for GHG effects over the whole life cycle of a new energy technology is rarely mandated by laws in any nation.
manner of negotiating differs among nations.
There are stereotypes about Western vs. Eastern manners of
negotiating. There are large measures of
truth in these. I think all the participants
responsibility for current state - esp., who put all that CO2 up