Intellectual Property Rights and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

With 197 parties, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has near universal membership and is the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol has been ratified by 192 of the UNFCCC Parties. The ultimate objective of both treaties is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system. To achieve UNFCCC objective, climate technologies must play key role. The Convention states that all countries shall promote and cooperate in development and transfer of technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, developed countries shall take all practicable steps to promote, facilitate and finance transfer of, or access to, climate technologies to developing countries.

UNFCCC Technology Mechanism aims to enhance action on technology development and transfer. It has two arms namely, the policy arm called Technology Executive Committee (TEC) and the implementation arm called Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN). The TEC is made up of 20 expert members. It analyses issues and identifies policies and further implements technology transfer framework. On its part, the CTCN supports implementation through 3 core services through the Advisory Board, Climate Technology Network and the Climate Technology Centre. It is hosted by UNEP and UNIDO and has a network of 130 organisations with each country having its a focal point.
At UNFCCC, the topic of intellectual property (IP) rights in the context of climate technology is discussed but it is highly political. Countries are divided on both substance and process regarding IP rights i.e. What is the role of IP rights? Should UNFCCC process consider IP rights? On the role of IP rights, some developed countries claim that IP rights incentivize innovation of new and enhanced climate technologies by protecting inventorship providing recognition and financial benefit since all countries urgently need new and enhanced climate technologies to accelerate climate action. On the contrary, some developing countries claim that IP rights are a barrier to technology transfer, as they reduce access to climate technologies since access to technologies is restricted by high costs or license to use the tech may be refused. It is argued that all these factors affects developing countries efforts to enhance action on climate change.
Regarding whether UNFCCC process should consider IP rights, some developing countries want UNFCCC to discuss IP since they are considered to be a barrier to enhanced climate technology, thus UNFCCC process needs to address issues of IP. However, some developed countries disagree on the grounds that there are already existing multilateral fora which discuss IP, e.g. WIPO and WTO as such IP issues should be discussed there, not in UNFCCC. Consequently, at the UNFCCC level, there have been no ‘official’ outcomes on IP rights. However, Technology Mechanism bodies (TEC and CTCN) are undertaking work on IP-related issues.
Sources: Asher Lessels, Presentation at WIPO-WTO Colloquium for Teachers of Intellectual Property, June 13-24, 2016

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