365 Days of Climate Awareness 358 – Innovation and Technology Development and Transfer

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All illustrations from the IPCC 6th Assessment Report, Vol. 3, Chap. 16. Government funding for research and development in energy, 1974-2018, Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development nations.

Innovation is the application of existing technology or methods to novel uses. The war in Ukraine has shown the world a pretty stunning array of innovations the Ukrainians have used in their national defense, from repurposing grenades as bombs dropped from drones, to a cloud-based app which directs artillery fire across an entire front. In more peaceful pursuits, photovoltaic (PV) roadways and roadside panels, used then for lighting, are others. The world is full of creative uses of existing technology. Development is the creation of new technology and methods (like ongoing work on hydrogen fusion).

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Innovation objectives and mechanisms.

It’s been observed that technological progress is limited in developing countries, because the means to promote and apply the progress are small or lacking. Where educational systems and infrastructure are inferior or nonexistent, the means and inspiration for technological progress is limited. For this reason sharing technology, from the developed to the developing world, is crucial. Many of the mitigations outlined in the AR6 report call for greater sustainability in the developing world, as it develops. This has no chance of occurring without the voluntary and widespread sharing of modern, cleaner and more efficient equipment, designs and methods. To use the very well-worn analogy, there is no need, and no time, to ask developing nations to re-invent the wheel.

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Social-technical transition.

To this end, intellectual property (IP) rights are sometimes considered helpful, sometimes harmful. Businesses use IP law to preserve trade secrets like improved technology and innovative concepts.  However, strong IP rights in developed countries provide companies with the incentive to continue developing new methods, secure within IP law to generate a profit. And this exposes another main challenge in confronting climate change: the drive for profit is at times completely opposed to the need to improve material conditions around the world, in places too poor to afford them. Bringing solar or wind generation to developing regions where coal and coke are used for fuel would be hugely expensive and require large external investments.

Many of the areas most urgently affected by global warming, such as tropical nations where sea level rise and extreme temperatures threaten large territories at once, lack the funding to improve their own technology or mitigate threats.  This is why we can meaningfully mitigate climate change only if we have robust international cooperation between governments. All other methods, while necessary, are insufficient.

This brings us to the end of the month-plus survey of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report. It wound up being about twice as many days as I’d planned to spend, but those days were thoroughly worthwhile. The IPCC report is very thorough and covered several areas, like buildings, urban development and technology sharing, which I omitted during the course of the year. So, now onward to other topics!

Tomorrow: cryptocurrency and global warming.

Be brave, be steadfast, and be well.

Sources & links:

IPCC 6th Assessment Report, Vol. 3, Chap. 16

Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD)

International Energy Agency (IEA), a branch of the OECD

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