Skeletons, Castles, and Closets – a reflection on technology negotiations at SB46

May 18th, 2017

Over the last 2 weeks, national government delegations, civil society organisations, and members of the private sector convened in Bonn, Germany for the bi-annual meetings of the ‘subsidiary bodies’ of the UNFCCC, where climate change actions are negotiated. On the agenda during this session, known as SB46, were two matters relating to the role of technologies in climate action, covering mitigation, adaptation, and ‘loss and damage’ activities.

The Technology Framework

The purpose of this is to provide new guidance to all stakeholders about how we can best facilitate technology transfer to countries who most need it, and how to best support developing countries to build their capacities to develop and innovate appropriate technological responses to issues of climate change. Primarily, this focuses on the role and activities of the Technology Mechanism of the UNFCCC, which comprises of the Technology Executive Committee (TEC) – a board of technology experts nominated by countries which provides guidance on national climate technology policies, as well as undertaking key research and evaluations of technology developments and policy options; and the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) – which provides technical assistance to countries developing technology plans and projects, as well as delivering capacity-building support and sharing key technology-related knowledge.

Negotiations were extremely slow and tedious

Despite the Technology Mechanism already existing, and continuing to do good work, negotiations over the past fortnight have been fraught and progressed at a snail’s pace. The first two days of negotiations were bogged down in semantic arguments over the meaning of the word “structure”. That’s right, dozens of the world’s ministers sat in a room for several hours, using increasingly elaborate and abstract metaphors and proverbs to define the meaning of “structure”. Japan referred to the structural components of a house, China talked of a turreted castle with several layers, while the EU pushed for the skeleton concept, asking somewhat rhetorically and ironically when they would all get to discussing the organs. Japan later talked instead of a closet which must be filled with the content of the Technology Framework – let’s hope it’s not filled with the skeletons of broken promises on climate action for the poorest and most vulnerable!

Once this issue was pushed aside by the facilitators (to be returned to at COP23 later this year – watch out, Observers!), more fruitful negotiations progressed on the real substance (the ‘organs’) of the Framework. Practical Action are part of the Climate Action Network (CAN), and our suggestions for the Framework slowly began to emerge, including a scaling-up of ambition to meet the Paris Agreement, alignment with countries’ climate action plans (known as ‘NDCs’), and more inclusive modes of working, to better engage civil society and private sector actors.

The Periodic Assessment

The parallel negotiations focused on the counterpart aspect, a so-called ‘Period Assessment’ of the Technology Mechanism – a tool to assess how effective the Mechanism is in actually enhancing the ability of developing countries to leverage the power of appropriate climate technologies. While negotiations were more straightforward here, divisions began to emerge around some key aspects of what should be assessed, when, and how. For us at CAN, we believe that it’s vital to assess the actual impacts of the work of the Mechanism on those it is meant to support – developing countries. Yet there were frequent push-backs from some developed-country negotiators, who want to limit the scope to looking only at the operational effectiveness of the Mechanism, rather than the outcomes of its work. Equally, we believe it is important to assess how well the Mechanism is creating and enhancing linkages with other parts of the UNFCCC – most notably the Financial Mechanism. Without a strong and coherent link here, technology related climate actions will fail to gain the funding necessary to be implemented.

COP23 – the view ahead

The Technology Framework negotiations fell woefully short of mandating the more transformative approaches we have called for. This includes horizon-scanning and analysis of emerging climate technologies, means to address access barriers relating to intellectual property rights, and direct support to enhancing technology innovation capacities of developing countries. But with negotiations to continue until November 2018, and calls from the facilitators for more inputs from Observers such as CAN, there remains scope to make the framework a more effective tool to supporting climate action.

On the whole, the Periodic Assessment negotiations progressed well, with parties nearing consensus around key issues as SB46 drew to a close. But issues around linkages to finance, and indeed the work of the Transparency negotiations, will be critical to work through over the coming months, to ensure that the Mechanism is assessed on its real ability to support poor and climate vulnerable populations with appropriate technologies.

COP23, in November this year, also in Bonn, will provide the next formal opportunity for negotiators to tackle some of the more difficult issues, and we will be watching intently how these progress. In the mean time, we will work, with fellow members of the Climate Action Network, to engage parties in the issues we think are most important to ensuring climate justice for the communities we work with. This will include our ongoing engagement as Observers to the TEC and CTCN bodies. We hope that at COP23, negotiators can fill their Technology Framework closet not with skeletons, but with the tools necessary to accelerate transformative climate action.

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