Global Cachet

As negotiations at the UN Framework Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) draw to a close in Poznan, Poland and EU leaders kick off meetings in Brussels, all eyes and podcast feeds are assessing what, if any, progress can be made towards a new climate deal. Let’s face it, what were already difficult negotiations have become even more painful due to the worsening global economic conditions. So far the news isn’t heartening. But does this mean that the green tech revolution has come to a halt? No.

Why? Because technology innovation marches on. Companies in Europe, the United States and in the fast developing countries of China and India are pouring Euros, Dollars, Renminbi, and Rupees into discovering the next greatest climate saving breakthrough. EU Commissioner for Industry Günter Verheugen has said on a number of occasions that the EU must maintain and enhance its competitive advantage in climate change technologies. U.S. President-elect Obama has proposed investing $15 billion a year in green technologies. And the Americans and Europeans are not alone. In August 2008, Ernst & Young’s renewable energy country attractiveness indices moved China into the top 5 most attractive countries for investment in renewable energy. In fact, firms in China, India and Brazil are among the world’s largest producers of environmental goods for solar, wind and biomass power production. For example, China’s Suntech and India’s Tata BP Solar are top global suppliers of photovoltaic (PV) cells.

Investment in eco-innovation could be a win-win-win scenario: a win for economic growth, a win for high-quality jobs, and a win for the environment. Just this week European Trade Union leader, John Monks, said it is time to pour money into green jobs calling on the EU to invest in green industries and jobs. An article published by the American Solar Energy Society predicts, in an admittedly aggressive scenario, that by 2030, industries with green-collar jobs could provide up to 40 million American jobs and generate up to US$4.53 trillion in annual revenue.

But I emphasize the word could because threats to innovation in environmental technologies exist. One of the biggest threats is the notion that incentives in the form of intellectual property rights somehow hinder innovation and limit transfer of technologies to the developing world. In fact the opposite is true. Weakening existing IP protections would eliminate incentives for future research and create uncertainty for the many businesses in developed and developing countries alike that have already invested hundreds of billions of dollars in climate saving technologies and production. An effective and viable climate change treaty starts with negotiators enshrining clean energy technology and strong intellectual property rights as part of the solution, rather than a problem or a bargaining chip. The key to any international agreement on climate change is that it must include global participation and strong intellectual property rights to spur the use of clean energy technologies worldwide.

Eco innovation, green tech, green collar jobs — no matter what you call it, incentives to keep the drive alive are key to meeting climate goals.

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  1. Barack Obama started on the green collar job band-wagon running up to the US elections and talking about the economic recovery package this week said “Because of what we did, companies – large and small – that produce renewable energy can now apply for loan guarantees and tax credits and find ways to grow, instead of laying people off; and families can lower their energy bills by weatherizing their homes.”

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