Global Cachet

On June 1st, UN climate change negotiators will sit down in Bonn, Germany for the first official round of UNFCCC negotiations. The players have held several meetings leading up to the official negotiations – and commentators, NGOs and industry groups have all been watching the choreographed dance between the EU and the United States, particularly to see what new dance moves the Obama Administration might show. Despite a few rough areas, so far, the European and American negotiators are dancing nicely together in hopes of reaching an agreement by December in Copenhagen.

Perhaps the real question is – will the Chinese trip up the dancers by insisting on changes in intellectual property protections for new green technologies – and do the European and American negotiators want a deal so badly that they might trade off IP in order to get China to sign on to verifiable numerical targets? Up to now, western negotiators have called it a mere ploy by the Chinese – but Chinese and Indian demands on IP have made it into the official draft negotiating text. For example, the draft text states that “Specific measures {shall}{should}be established to remove barriers to development and transfer of technologies from developed to developing country Parties arising from the intellectual property rights(IPR) protection, including: (a) Compulsory licensing for specific patented technologies.” In laymen’s terms – some countries in the developing world, led by China and India, want free access to patented – or future patented – technologies developed by European and American companies.

Both European and American politicians have talked extensively about the importance of green technology and so-called ‘green collar’ jobs as key drivers of economic growth, noting that the current economic recession is a particular opportunity for these industries. For example, U.S. President Obama has proposed investing $15 billion in green technologies to create up to 5 million green-collar jobs. The American Solar Energy Society predicts that by 2030, industries with green-collar jobs could provide up to 40 million American jobs and generate up to $4.53 trillion in annual revenue. EU Commissioner Verheugen has emphasized repeatedly that discovering new technologies to fight climate change is Europe’s competitive advantage and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has similarly called for an international “Green New Deal”.

Renewable energy and other companies engaged in climate mitigation want to have China and other countries utilize their technologies – but on fair terms. The catch is, European and American companies cannot take the risks to invest in new research and development if they can’t be assured that their new discoveries will be protected. And if this scenario plays out at the UNFCCC negotiations, who is going to hire all those green collar employees and generate all that annual income that governments can then turn into tax revenue?

It may be a negotiating ploy – but it is one that needs to be taken seriously now. Industry is aware of the challenge. On May 20th in Washington, DC, a new coalition was launched called the Innovation, Development and Employment Alliance (IDEA). The coalition will work with policy makers and international stakeholders to safeguard intellectual property rights that encourage research and development investments, create jobs, spur economic growth, and will (hopefully) lead to technological solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While IDEA is not just about green technologies (the focus is on all research-intensive sectors), the immediate concern is what negotiators will decide on in order to secure a deal in time for a signing ceremony in Copenhagen this December.

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