As a teacher, I loved asking students what they thought this picture showed. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but blown up on a projector screen at the front of a classroom, I think this image is worth way more than that. If you look closely, you can see the border between North and South Korea, a string of light clinging to the Nile, and even the outline of the E105 linking Moscow to St. Petersburg.
Most people say this picture shows population, and they’re half-right. In the West, electrical output is a handy stand-in for population, so we see bright lights covering the eastern United States and most of Europe. Population only tells part of the story, though. My students were surprised to see that Nigeria (outlined in green on the left) has 55 million more people than Japan (outlined in green on the right). Ethiopia (bottom red) has 9 million more people than Germany (top red).
The picture doesn’t just show population, then. It really shows uneven access to power. Seven out of ten people in Sub-Sahara Africa lack access to electricity. Many of the least bright portions of the map are also the quickest growing and quickest developing, so the methods developing countries use to generate electricity will have huge implications for future emissions.
That’s where technology transfer comes in. Technology transfer is an umbrella term for moving know-how, experience, and equipment aimed at adaptation or mitigation across countries, usually from developed countries to developing ones. Technology transfer was one of the most contentious issues negotiators hashed out in Paris, as the shifting language in the drafts showed.
Before Bonn Intersession:
In the shortened 20-page non-paper released by the ADP October 5, technology transfer merited a brief mention in Article 6 (Finance) and a short section that encouraged parties to strengthen policy frameworks to foster innovation, attract private sector investments, and develop their own capacities and technologies.
After Bonn Intersession:
The draft agreement released after the Bonn intersessional meeting on October 23 saw a renewed interest in technology transfer. An article 3 bracket explicitly called for developed countries to “provide new and additional financial resources, technology transfer and capacity building to meet the full costs incurred by developing country Parties in complying with their obligations under this Article.” Remarkably, the text also featured an option calling for developed countries “to meet the full costs of IPRs of environmentally sound technologies and know-how, and such technologies will be provided to developing country Parties free of cost in order to enhance their actions to address climate change.” No one thought either of these options would wind up in the final text, but they represent one end of the bargaining spectrum going into Paris.
In the final Paris Agreement:
The final text is predictably light on specifics, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Parties will reconvene in May 2016 to discuss technology transfer, and there’ll be periodic updates to reassess progress and needs. In the meantime, the agreement establishes a technology framework to sort out needs, capabilities, and obstacles. The agreement calls on developed and developing countries to share information about technology, but the crucial word here is ‘should,’ not ‘shall.’