The climate constraint will become increasingly problematic for developing countries as they try to meet their development needs. For example, it is estimated that more than 2.7 billion people worldwide still rely on biomass, burnt in open fires or traditional three-stone ‘cookstoves’ and that almost 1.4 billion people do not have access to electricity.
On a per capita basis, developing countries use one-fifth of the energy of industrialized countries, and least-developed countries , only one-sixteenth . Thus developing countries will need to significantly enhance their energy infrastructure in the coming decades to meet development needs even as the atmosphere is increasingly overloaded with the accumulated greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from industrialized countries.
The reference scenario in the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2009 suggests that as much as 90% of the growth in energy demand worldwide between 2008 and 2030 will come from non-OECD countries (mainly in Asia) and that these countries will account for almost two-thirds of the power generation capacity addition worldwide during this period. This scenario has also estimated that global power-generation investments during this period will be about $7.2 trillion and that more than half of these investments will be needed in developing countries. Under a scenario to maintain GHG concentrations below 450 parts-per million (a commonly-talked about target), the required investment would increase by almost 30%.
So these countries are faced with daunting energy needs, ever-harder climate constraints and potentially enormous incremental investment needs. Technology could, in principle, play a crucial role by allowing for a low-GHG growth and some level of adaptation against climate impacts . But realizing the potential of technology to help meet this challenge is not always a straightforward task.
In fact, successful innovation – translation of knowledge or technology into commercial application – requires paying attention to a range of activities underpinning the development and deployment of technologies and often involves a variety of actors. But developing countries often have weak innovation capabilities. Thus a targeted mechanism to supplement and strengthen these capabilities to advance innovation on climate technologies could make an enormous impact.
With precisely this in mind, the government has proposed Climate Innovation Centres (CICs) – these would be institutions in developing countries aimed at enhancing their climate innovation processes through a systematic analysis of the gaps across various parts of the innovation chain for particular technologies within that country’s context and then working with existing actors to address these gaps.
The CICs would advance a range of innovation-relevant activities, such as helping refine and adapt technologies and products to local conditions, product demonstration projects, market-creation activities, design of delivery models, incubation of enterprises and development of policy regimes – while ultimately building indigenous capacity on climate innovation.
This concept has received support from many quarters and hopefully will find acceptance as part of the Technology Mechanism under the Climate Convention. Of course, climate negotiations follow their own logic and there are other perspectives on the technology issue. But as President Obama rightly said during his recent announcement of the firstever US Development Policy that “the purpose of development…is creating the conditions where assistance is no longer needed.” Climate Innovation Centers are intended to do precisely that – move away from a world of dependency on “technical assistance” and help developing countries build capacity to meet their climate challenges. Hopefully the climate negotiators in the upcoming climate meeting in Cancun will see it the same way.