TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Apr15/08)
27 April 2015
Third World Network

Will “the wall” be broken? – Discussion begins on Technology Facilitation Mechanism in Post-2015 Agenda

By Ranja Sengupta, New York (24 April 2015)

There was cautious optimism for a United Nations-embedded Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM) at discussions on Means of Implementation (MOI) and a Global Partnership for Development during the fourth session of the negotiations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

However, from the discussion held on 22 April it is likely to be a long haul to the finish line, especially as the United States of America reiterated that there “remains no consensus among Member States for a (technology) facilitation mechanism”.  The 21 to 24 April meeting at the UN headquarters in New York was held as a Joint Session between the Financing for Development (FfD) and Post-2015 processes.

Talks on a TFM are not new to the UN but the subject is intensely contentious and has seen deep North-South battle lines drawn in the past. Developing countries have reiterated their call for such a mechanism time and again arguing that technology is key to meeting development challenges in their countries. Given the acute barriers to access to technology in developing countries and the proliferation of it in the rich technologically advanced countries, the transfer of technology, and at the minimum technology cooperation between these two poles were seen as a natural solution by the developing countries. The Rio+20 document adopted in 2012 also mandates the setting up of a TFM. As a result, several attempts were made to bring a TFM to life under the auspices of the UN, the last of which were the 2014 structured dialogues co-moderated by Brazil and Switzerland to promote the development, transfer and dissemination of clean and environmentally sound technologies.

However, deep suspicion in developed countries which fear they will be asked to “dilute” intellectual property rights (IPR) standards has led to a stiff resistance on this issue. The big private sector especially transnational corporations that own and control most of the world’s technology have also consistently opposed such a move. They are reaping rentier profits that stem from their current control of technology that creates monopoly profits and they want to retain this. This hard reality has forced the talks to be limited to “technology cooperation” from the more dynamic and useful concept of “technology transfer” that has been the core of multilateral commitment in this area for decades but even then talks have not made much headway. Many describe this stiff block on technology-related discussions as “the wall”. 

During the UN Open Working Group (OWG) discussions on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2013-2014, the issue of access to technology had been strongly raised by developing countries. As a result Goal 17 on MOI of the SDGs includes a section on technology with 3 targets 17.6 to 17.8. In addition, some goal specific targets also talk about technology and some respite from current IPR commitments made under international agreements such as the one under the World Trade Organization. Target 3.b for example offers a recommitment to allow the flexibilities that were granted by the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. This by itself is interesting that there was a necessity to reaffirm an already existing commitment but is no surprise given the regular attack on the use of these flexibilities by developed countries. Expectedly, any mention of IPRs was met with total resistance from the developed countries during the SDG discussions.

Target 17.6 of the SDGs reads “enhance North-South, South-South and triangular regional and international cooperation on and access to science, technology and innovation, and enhance knowledge sharing on mutually agreed terms, including through improved coordination among existing mechanisms, particularly at UN level, and through a global technology facilitation mechanism when agreed”.  This largely forms the basis for the re-launch or rather re-thinking of a TFM that has been proposed by the developing countries as part of the more detailed talks on MOI at the General Assembly.

The current discussions on TFM are also informed by Target 17.7 which aims to “promote development, transfer, dissemination and diffusion of environmentally sound technologies to developing countries on favourable terms, including on concessional and preferential terms, as mutually agreed”. The limit to environmentally sound technologies is not accidental. This is largely taken to be the Rio+20 mandate though it is actually never explicitly laid out in the document.  Though the Rio process since 1992 is on sustainable development with the three pillars (economic, social and environmental), developed countries continue to limit the commitments to the environment pillar, and even then in a selective manner.

Discussions also spanned Target 17.8, which seeks to “fully operationalize the Technology Bank and STI (Science, Technology and Innovation) capacity building mechanism for LDCs by 2017, and enhance the use of enabling technologies in particular ICT”.

It is to be noted that the FfD process which is running parallel and the outcome of which will be linked to the MOI provisions of the Post-2015 agenda, focuses more on financial rather than non-financial MOI and does not, in particular, offer a TFM which is mandated by the Rio+20 document. So developing countries are seeking to address this in the Post-2015 Agenda, particularly since developed countries appear to be pressing for the Post-2015 MOI to be narrowed down to the FfD outcome.

(See separate report: “FfD and Post-2015 development agenda are distinct and complementary, says South”. The Third International Conference on Financing for Development will take place in July in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.)

The day long discussion clearly established the critical role of technology to fulfill the commitments made under the SDGs and the Post-2015 Agenda framework; at least this much was agreed by all. As Co-facilitator Ambassador Macharia Kamau (Kenya) suggested, informal discussions could take place leading up to July on the TFM, an idea which was supported strongly by Brazil, India and Egypt at the end of the day. Ambassador Kamau also suggested that while we have by now a clear idea of its functions, the TFM form will also need a lot of discussion.

The promise, though currently limited to just the willingness on the part of Member States to discuss a TFM, is still a plus. However it is clear that this is just the beginning of a long process spanning a set of complex issues and that a lot of political will is needed to reach a consensus on not only the functions but also the form of such a TFM. It was clear that the critical issue of IPRs was most likely to be left out as most Member States chose to steer clear of IPRs in the day’s discussion.

The Beginning of a Dialogue

The technology discussion was kicked off by presentations from Ambassador Guilherme de Aguiar Patriota of Brazil and Ambassador Paul Seger of Switzerland who presented the summary of the General Assembly Structured Dialogues, which they had co-moderated, on the possible arrangements for a TFM and the contours of a possible framework. The key recommendations were: to develop an online platform to undertake a thorough mapping of existing technology facilitation mechanisms, framework and processes; to improve coordination within the UN System; and to perform analysis of needs and gaps in addressing them.

In an important statement Ambassador Patriota stressed that not only environmentally sound technologies but also those covering all three pillars of sustainable development, namely socially and economically useful technologies, must be covered by the mechanism.

The role of the private sector, which has been a large focus of technology facilitation discussions so far, on the assumption that they produce most of the technologies, was also questioned. Liberia queried that when the private sector is averse to enter a country like Liberia considering it risky, how will the country have access to technology and whether it could be funded by official development assistance (ODA). Guatemala asked if technologies were protected by IPRs, could we identify important beneficial technologies as 'public good' and work out a new kind of IPRs for these.

In response Ambassador Seger suggested different ways to incentivize the private sector, for example with monetary incentives for industrialisation, philanthropic interests or providing government insurances for basic services and so on. His view was that “taking away their IPRs and expropriating them does not work”.

Ambassador Patriota reiterated that technology is a crucial issue for SDGs. That is why they suggested (based on the structured dialogues) the mapping and system-wide treatment. He went on to strongly debunk the myth of the private sector creating all technology and bearing its cost. He said that some technology is driven by governments and often involves huge investments. It is not only the final technology that is important but the entire process and environment of its creation. States spend immense resources in producing the brains, capacity and technical skills that go into the production of technology, according to Patriota. At the end this is appropriated by the private sector to make technology a commercial product.

On IPRs, Patriota said that the intellectual property regime is central, but he chose not to discuss it for it will go nowhere in view of the controversial debates, the strong opposition to discuss it here and its very technical nature. He suggested to do incremental steps and discuss monitoring and mapping. IPR discussions also tend to discourage the private sector as they will immediately refrain from becoming engaged but they have to be involved in this discussion, including transnational corporations that do philanthropy and work on technology.

Patriota also pointed out that some technologies are free from IPRs and are no longer proprietary, and there is a lot that can be done on those technologies in the public domain. He stressed that technologies need to be considered holistically and it will not be useful to distinguish simple technologies from sophisticated ones. The UN can pull all these elements together towards finding a pathway towards an outcome in September, he concluded.

Ambassador George Talbot (Guyana), the Co-facilitator for the FfD process, pointed to the need for a breakthrough. “We need a psychology of solutions instead of barriers,” he said.

Iran stressed the need for simple technology and that countries could build a structure and facilitate the transfer of technology to developing countries.
India said the discussion need to be not about technology transfer but about technology cooperation. On private sector concerns, India pointed to technologies that are in the public domain but will not be developed by the big private sector as there is no profit, and that this can be solved with cooperation. It asked, “how do we create the psychology of solutions” as we never entered the debate on what we can do. Rwanda asked specifically about the access to technology in rural areas.

Ambassador Patriota said that technology is not just a North-South issue but a have and have-not technology divide. He expressed doubts about making certain technologies global public goods but could think of technologies close to a global public good with different solutions that could be considered.

Ambassador Seger suggested doing away with the public-private divide and use globalization’s positive impacts, for example, to produce vaccines as described by India. The UN should be creating awareness about the needs for technology transfer.

Ambassador Kamau, the Co-facilitator of the Post-2015 agenda, summed up the discussion. What was clear is that a solution needs to be found at the UN for mapping and systems-wide analysis and to provide a platform to exchange needs, solutions, views on how to move forward in practical ways etc. He also said that the public-private debate is tricky as it sees the tail end and fails to appreciate how capability to invent was developed. A lot of technology transfer is embedded in business, corporate relationships, which is problematic but also presents opportunities. He suggested tackling the IPR regime and finding technologies that are public goods, to create access. He discussed global partnership(s) compared to a single partnership between governments and suggested as solutions to find the global partnership(s) for technology and to perhaps have bi-annual forums for discussing this issue.

Some Responses from Member States

The Group of 77 and China, represented by South Africa, reiterated that, “the call to establish a technology facilitation mechanism is one of the most important decisions that emanated out of Rio+20”. The Group said that the briefing from the Co-moderators and the Report of the Structured Dialogues clearly show that “that we do NOT need another round of discussions on whether a technology facilitation mechanism is needed or not. What is urgently needed, as was mandated by Rio+20, is the bringing into reality of a global mechanism whose core function will be: the development, transfer and dissemination of technologies for the implementation of the SDGs”.
The Group asked for the TFM for the Post-2015 agenda to be set up under the UN, agreeing on the scope of its mandate, its functions and institutional arrangement. “We are NOT here to consider broader systemic or regulatory issues related to technology, science and innovation, which belongs to the preparatory process for the Third Conference for Financing for Development” but “encompasses the breadth and depth of the 17 sustainable development goals, as technologies are crucial for the implementation of each and every SDG” the statement added.

The G77 and China was open to consider proposals aiming at enhancing the role of science and innovation in the context of a Global Facilitation Mechanism. “The Group believes that a Technology Facilitation Mechanism should provide an effective platform for concrete action by the Member States and the UN System, with the engagement of other stakeholders, in contributing to the development, transfer and dissemination of technologies for the implementation of the SDGs”.

The G77 and China supported the recommendations made by the Co-moderators of the Structured Dialogues earlier as initial functions of the mechanism and also referred to the work of the inter-agency group on technology facilitation and the proposed initiative by the Secretary-General to establish an online global platform. The Group also praised the work of the Inter-agency Working Group for a Global Technology Facilitation Platform and said that it “should assist not only in supporting the initiative of the Secretary-General to establish an online, global platform, but also to improve coordination within the UN system on technologies for the implementation of the SDGs”.
Highlighting the essential and transformative role of technology in bringing about sustainable development, the Group requested “the Co-facilitators to include provisions for the establishment of a technology facilitation mechanism in the zero draft for the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Such provisions should include the mandate, core functions and the institutional arrangement for the establishment of such mechanism”.

Liberia, on behalf of the African Group, said that achieving sustainable growth in Africa will require access to technology. The Group called for an innovation fund during the early stages of the technology mechanism with focus on capacity building in the areas of education, and science and technology. The Group also highlighted the importance of environmentally sound technologies and supported the idea of an online technology platform so as to support knowledge transfer and technical assistance. It further called for a technology bank to support LDCs by 2017 (as per Target 17.8). The Group encouraged North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation and knowledge sharing and recognised capacity building as a development need. It also underlined the critical need to reinforce national efforts in African countries in key areas.

Maldives, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said that the Rio+20 Outcome Document and the OWG Report have already outlined the importance of technology for sustainable development. “The discussion, as called for by the Chair of G77 and China, must move from a discussion of WHAT to a discussion on HOW” the statement emphasised. AOSIS highlighted the key areas where modern clean technology investments, and the necessary know-how would enable further development and progress for SIDS, for example, in increased use of ICT, affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy technology and ocean technology. The statement also stressed the importance of capacity and institutional building.

Belize representing the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) described how the Caribbean countries have invested in technology so as to support the implementation of the MDGs and to overcome constraints of poverty and gender equality, through investments in ICTs. The Group argued that for high debt countries of the CARICOM, technology innovation is key but investment is difficult. CARICOM has engaged with the UN to address technology as important to climate sensitive development, but the region is constrained by trade, intellectual property rights, and limited capacity locally to manage and use technology, the unsuitable and non-adaptability of technology to local conditions and failure to recognize cultural and national contexts. Technology must therefore be on better terms and must be relevant and be online with national development priorities, the Group stressed. A concerted global effort is needed to assist countries at the national level and an online global platform in its current form is inadequate in dealing with the needs of CARICOM. The platform must include UN and regional coordinating mechanisms.

Tonga speaking on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) expressed openness to a TFM “as it is a key means to a number of key goals and targets of the SDGs”. PSIDS supports commitments to support the access of SIDS to environmentally sound technology, the statement said.

Benin, speaking on behalf of the LDCs said that LDCs are most disadvantaged in terms of the transfer and generation of technology. The rudimentary technology that is used in the LDCs cannot address the challenges of the LDCs nor meet the SDGs. The Group asked for a dedicated mechanism to foster their access to modern technologies and stressed the role of south-south cooperation, as a complementary path to North-South cooperation, in helping to develop a science technology bank dedicated to LDCs. The LDCs has set a target of 1% of ODA for a technology bank, the statement added.

Ecuador, on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) said that “the United Nations System should do more on the field of technology development, transfer and dissemination, as mandated by Rio+20 outcome document” and reiterated that “the establishment of a technology facilitation mechanism is one of the unfulfilled mandates of Rio+20, and must be addressed without delay”. Supporting the view expressed by Ambassador Patriota, CELAC said “technology facilitation should support the implementation of all 17 sustainable development goals and targets, not only those related to the environmental dimension of sustainable development”.

Recalling “that the Rio+20 Conference and its follow-up processes have already identified the main functions for a technology facilitation mechanism, providing a concrete basis for our deliberation in the context of the Post-2015 Development Agenda” CELAC suggested a move from “dogmatic debates toward more constructive and pragmatic consideration of proposals for a technology facilitation mechanism, building upon the recommendations contained in the report of the Structured Dialogues, taking into account the specific recommendations on technology of the Synthesis Report of the Secretary General as well as other relevant inputs”.

India said that the TFM is not just a goal of developing countries. It stressed that there is no need to revisit mapping as several UN agencies were already pursing this. India suggested the need to focus on what the TFM will do and its core functions; the arrangements for oversight and administration; how work will be organized at national and international levels; how to gather expertise including from the private sector.  India also said that technology transfer should not be taboo because of IPR concerns and asked that more time be allocated on this issue.

While the developing countries’ statements stressed the need for technology, the developed countries seemed keen to establish that they are committed to the issue of technology by dotting their statements with examples of how they have already worked to develop and disseminate technology to meet a host of the world’s critical development needs. Some of them argued that several examples of TFM are already functioning under the UN system.

The European Union (EU) said it is convinced of the importance of the issues of science and technology and innovation to development and to the implementation of the SDGs (Goal 9) and that a broad approach is in line with the Rio+20 outcome. The EU emphasised the link between technology transfer and the role of the private sector. Collaborative platforms are also critical to the MOI framework, it said, adding that it is ready to engage with the three recommendations of the Secretary-General on the functions of a technology transfer mechanism: the mapping of existing frameworks through the online platform; improved UN cooperation on technology transfer; and the need to promote capacity building.

The United Kingdom cited examples of helping to develop technology for development needs such as anti-malarial drugs for young children, vaccines to prevent TB etc. The UK spends 3% of its development assistance budget on research and its centrally funded research is now open and free to access online, it said, adding that the UK is the largest donor to the $5.5 billion multilateral Clean Technology Fund. It said that, “the most valuable contribution from government is to provide a conducive environment for investment, innovation, technology development and technology sharing”.  It also argued that “developing and sharing technology is not just a North/South issue – increasingly, upper middle income countries are major technology innovators”. Therefore “all countries should be looking to increase their bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation on science and technology to help implement the SDGs”.

(The Clean Technology Fund is one of two multi-donor Trust Funds within the Climate Investment Funds that according to its website, “promotes scaled-up financing for demonstration, deployment and transfer of low-carbon technologies with significant potential for long-term greenhouse gas emissions savings”. Funds are channeled through the African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Inter-American Development Bank, and World Bank Group.)

France attempted to provide a clear framework for the TFM acknowledging that we need to recognize the importance of the issue and to develop capacity and confidence on it. It suggested taking note of options on the table such as mapping and online platform; incentivisation at local level; capacity building and bolstering IPR which creates a good climate for innovation, access to which is not an issue since many are already available as licenses not submitted yet; and finally; how to ensure technology to LLDCs as States are not the only actors. France advocated multi-stakeholder partnerships, involving foundations, companies, universities, local groups and the State. Discussions should fit into a political framework and fit into budget, consistent with international mechanisms in the field (e.g. IPO green platform). It reiterated that IPRs should not be called into question and that the scope for public-private partnerships can include innovations from local communities.

The United States of America (USA) said “last year we launched the US Global Development Lab specifically to scale up our efforts and investments in this area. Based on that experience, we see STI (science, technology and innovation) as deeply connected to other MOI, and prefer to have it addressed alongside them rather than separated out for special treatment. We thus do hope and expect that it will be addressed in a coordinated and cohesive manner within the FfD process”.

While the USA acknowledged that the workshops and dialogues reconfirmed the importance of technology to solutions for sustainable development and generated ideas about possible next steps, it went on to say “as the PGA (President of the General Assembly) report noted, there remains no consensus among Member States for a facilitation mechanism, and indeed, the PGA report was not a consensus document”.

The USA added that, “we still have work to do as we determine further options. We agree with many … that there is great diversity among developing countries in terms of their interests, needs, capacity, and even basic legal structures. And to add to the complexity, just as the needs of developing countries are not homogenous, neither is ‘technology.’  … We are committed to continuing to explore how to enhance those government-owned and managed programs and support the goals we are defining through the FfD and post-2015 processes, building on considerable experience and precedent from work of this kind undertaken previously”. +

(Edited by Chee Yoke Ling.)