Methodological and Technological issues in Technology Transfer

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3.3 Technology Transfer in International Environment and Development Agreements: An Overview

3.3.1 Technology Transfer in the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21

Global efforts to foster sustainable development came together at the Rio "Earth Summit" UNCED conference in 1992. At Rio, agreement on the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 sought to define principles and an "action plan" for global sustainable development. It was aimed at fostering sustainable development through domestic and international actions. The following are of particular relevance:

Principle 9 of the Rio Declaration specifically addresses technology transfer: "States should cooperate to strengthen endogenous capacity-building for sustainable development … through exchanges of scientific and technological knowledge, and by enhancing the development, adaptation, diffusion and transfer of technologies." The Declaration also stated that "States should cooperate to promote a supportive and open international economic system", and that "States should effectively cooperate to discourage or prevent the relocation and transfer to other States of any activities and substances that cause severe environmental degradation or are found to be harmful to human health". Several other of the Rio Declaration principles addressed requirements for states to develop domestic policies supportive of sustainable development, including participation, environmental legislation, liability and compensation for environmental damage, internalisation of environmental costs, environmental impact assessments, and international cooperation.

Box 3.2: Extracts from Agenda 21, Chapter 34 (as summarised in Grubb et al, 1993)
Environmentally sound technologies, including expertise, and related issues should be made available to developing countries. Developing countries, should have access to relevant information on technological choices, and the international information exchange systems and clearing houses should be developed. Access to and transfer of environmentally sound technology should be promoted "on favourable terms, including on concessional and preferential terms, as mutually agreed, taking into account the need to protect intellectual property rights, as well as the special needs of developing countries for the implementation of Agenda 21.

Specific measures should include policies and programmes to encourage public and private technology transfer and regulatory measures, include subsidies and tax policies, and appropriate mechanisms for improved access and transfer of relevant technologies. National capacities, particularly of developing countries, should be built to develop and manage environmentally sound technologies, including human resource development, and strengthen research and development capacities.

The development of indigenous technology and technology assessment should be promoted, "a collaborative network of research centres" should be established and "programmes of cooperation and assistance" should be strengthened. The importance of technology transfer through business commerce is recognised, and while the availability to developing countries is of concern, "fair incentives to innovators" should also be provided; here the role of patent and property rights should be examined. Long-term partnerships between holders and users of environmentally sound technologies, and between companies in developed and developing countries as well as joint ventures should be promoted.

Agenda 21 supported these principles with more detailed proposals for action. Chapter 34 of Agenda 21 was devoted to technology transfer (Box 3.2). Unlike the two Treaties signed at Rio (UNFCCC, and the Convention on Biological Diversity), Agenda 21 does not carry legal force. The extent to which these recommendations have been implemented varies, and debate continues within the Commission on Sustainable Development. The rest of this section addresses issues of technology transfer associated with specific legally-binding multilateral environmental agreements.

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