Technology and climate change

Technology transfer is emerging as one of the many challenges of climate change.

Solar panel assembly

The first Women Barefoot Solar Engineers, trained in India, install solar panels in their village of Mauritania in Africa.

Credit: Barefoot Photographers of Tilonia/Flickr

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From fuel-efficient cooking stoves and solar lanterns, to low-emission power plants, technology lies at the heart of the war on climate change for developed and developing countries alike.

Affordable and accessible technologies are needed to achieve low carbon livelihoods and adapt to the new climate order.

And technology transfer has become a pivotal issue in the run-up to the summit in Copenhagen next month, where the world hopes to hammer out a new global climate deal.

"That countries should come to an agreement on technology transfer is crucial to a fair global deal and thus to the success of any Copenhagen agreement," says Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, representative from Sudan, speaking for the G-77 Plus China - a group of 77 developing countries and China - at a UN-supported meeting on climate technology transfer in Delhi last month (21 October).

Energy aspirations

Why is this technological assistance so vital for countries that emit only a small proportion of the world's greenhouse gases?

The answer is their needs and aspirations. In developing countries, millions still lack basic resources such as food, clean water, sanitation and power. Almost one-third of the population in developing countries - 1.6 billion people - lacked access to electricity in 2005, according to the International Energy Agency's 2009 World Energy Outlook report.

Energy poverty limits many activities that are vital to human, economic and social development, says Ambuj Sagar, professor of policy studies at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. As countries strive to end energy poverty, their carbon emissions are likely to soar.

"Meeting the climate and developmental challenges simultaneously will require a significant shift in the technological trajectory of developing countries," says Sagar.

"The global climate policy will succeed - or fail - depending on whether it brings low-emissions technologies, and technologies for adaptation, within the reach of poor countries and communities without further delay," agrees Sha Zukang, under-secretary general at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

And Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary general to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, says: "Technology transfer to developing countries is a critical international public policy issue. So far discussions have not advanced with the urgency needed.

"Climate change demands urgent action. The world cannot afford to wait for these technologies to follow the usual path of gradual diffusion from rich to middle-income to poor countries."

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