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Harnessing technology for the environment

Promising new technologies can help to secure basic goods and services, especially for the poor in developing countries, but they remain largely the province of commercial interests in developed countries. Environmental technologies in water and energy (wind and solar power, fuel cells), recycling, biotechnology and ecological farming all offer great potential. Ways must be found to capitalize on these innovations, transfer the technologies to the needy at affordable cost and include them in the development of technologies. Developing countries must become 'partners in the process' of technology rather than 'partners in the products' of technology.

In spite of the enormous potential for environmental and social gains from new technology, there are certain risks that need to be managed. Methodologies and capacity to evaluate these risks, to establish 'rules of conduct' and to facilitate appropriate transfer provide the challenge. The precautionary approach, polluter and user pays principles, full information dissemination and disclosure of risks, technology impact assessment, and the cost benefit analyses of adopting the technology must all be taken into account.

There are a number of ways forward:

  • the creation of incentives using trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPs);
  • technology transfer to developing countries and poorer communities on preferential terms; and
  • investment in alternative, relevant and more environmentally sound technologies, combining traditional and indigenous wisdom with cuttingedge science.
Technology transfer: lessons from the Montreal Protocol

Technology transfer has been successfully carried out through the Multilateral Fund of the Montreal Protocol. Analysis of case studies has demonstrated that:

  • Technology transfer is a collaborative effort: active cooperation, partnership and synergy between all stakeholders are required
  • The process cannot take place in isolation and requires a supportive environment with actions taken by government and industry, through a proper balance of incentives and disincentives
  • Technology transfer needs to be consistent with national programmes
  • Project planning should be comprehensive and geared to local conditions, requirements and capabilities of the receiving enterprises
  • Market forces play a crucial role in affecting or facilitating the technology transfer process
  • New technology should complement indigenous technologies where possible
  • Training is essential
  • Public awareness leads to public support
  • Presentation of clear political guidelines is required