International Cooperative R&D for Mitigation

posted Nov 9, 2016, 7:08 PM by Gabriel Chan   [ updated Nov 9, 2016, 8:07 PM ]
The last few years has seen the discussion of the role of technology cooperation in international climate policy broaden from unidirectional technology transfer toward a model of deeper cooperation to drive innovation. We've also seen countries get much more serious about innovation in the climate negotiations, perhaps best represented by the COP21 Mission Innovation pledges. This shift has a lot of potential to make the global innovation system for climate change mitigation more effective and more fair. Innovation that is collaborative is more likely to develop appropriate technologies that are also accessible to the collaborating partners (rather than individually owned by a country doing technology transfer). Collaboration can also enable larger R&D projects that capitalize on economies of scale and can coordinate strategic choice of R&D project selection to maximize global learning. 

This semester at the Humphrey School, I've been working with two master's students (Jill Rook and Ashfaqul Chowdhury) in the Center for Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy to put together a set of design principles for cooperative R&D arrangements for climate mitigation. We argue that effective cooperation should build on the comparative advantage of participant countries, which can include advantages in innovative capacity, market potential, and specific technological expertise. We also make the case for collaborative efforts to engage the private sector, follow key design principles of cooperation (e.g. frequent face-to-face interactions and progress monitoring), and give more decision-making authority for R&D project selection to scientists. We think that our approach will work best applied in the context of bilateral R&D efforts, such as the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center or the U.S.-India Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center

Accelerating innovation is going to be critical to the feasibility of achieving the 2-degree target of the Paris Agreement. Facilitating the necessary innovation in cooperative arrangements may be an essential tool in closing our "innovation deficit." Cooperative arrangements are also a critical tool for broadening participation and increasing ambition in the broader climate regime. Offers to collaborate in innovation provide a very rare opportunity to deploy politically feasible "carrots" (positive incentives) in a regime dominated by a fixation on costs.

Jill and I will be taking our briefing document on this topic with us to COP22 in Morocco and hope to get feedback on our thoughts from key decision makers and stakeholders. Our team is working on a longer report on this set of issues (just as we are with the Sustainable Development Mechanism). We would welcome any of your thoughts on this topic.

Gabriel Chan,
Nov 9, 2016, 7:10 PM