Facilitating transfer of environmentally sound technologies

Diffusing environmentally sound technologies
Improving transfer of environmentally sound technology
General definitions of sustainability, or environmental soundness, are difficult to translate into operational criteria that can be applied to choices among available technologies so as to be appropriate in the local social, economic, political and cultural context. The terms are not interchangeable. Environmental soundness is relative, and is not an attribute only of technology, but of technology embedded in a host of policies and strategies with respect to deployment, diffusion and social utilization of a technology within a larger socio-technical system. Sustainability should be a minimum criterion for environmental soundness, but not every environmental improvement or active policy for the conservation of natural resources can be considered as sustainable in an overall socio-technical sense. For example, an environmentally sound technology that was not affordable, or which excluded many segments of society from economic advancement in a given stage of economic development, could not be regarded as socially sustainable. A sustainable policy for the selection, and deployment of technology is one that forecloses as few future options as possible, compatible with any given level of present benefit. A technology providing short-term benefit today at low cost may prove more costly in the long run if at some future time the environmental or social dislocations it causes exceeds the economic surplus it generates.

Much environmentally sound technology, particularly in agriculture, lies in the public domain, so that the problem of technology transfer is more one of assimilation than of access. However, there is also need for an information network that provides an efficient mechanism for exchange of information about environmentally sound technologies, assessments of them, and of the practical experience with their use.

Even in agriculture, however, there is an increasing trend to wards privatization of agricultural technology, which in a few cases has had a significant inhibitory impact on the availability of technology in developing countries. This is an area that requires monitoring and possible future action. Proprietary technology is mostly in the hands of the private entities that have created the technology. There the challenge of technology transfer in the area of environmentally sound technology is to devise mechanisms that permit publicly funded intermediary institutions to purchase licences from private owners on a selective basis and make them available (with relevant support services) to institutions, private and public, in the developing countries. The criterion for free licensing should be the level of environmental benefit provided compared with alternatives. Funding for such intermediary institutions should come from governments of developed countries.

There exists much proprietary technology which is no longer of value in the developed world but could provide substantial environmental benefits in developing countries. An example is residential coal heating, which has been banned in most developed countries, but which will inevitably be used for a certain period of time in countries with abundant coal supplies like China. There is a need to identify such technologies and to provide incentives for their further development and marketing through partnerships between the owner of the technology in developed countries and an entity, public or private, in the developing countries.

This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities. Agenda 21 recommends establishing and strengthening national, regional and international systems and networks to identify ecologically sound technologies and facilitate exchange of information on data sources, policies, and techniques and tools of analysis. It further recommends facilitating the exchange of information by strengthening the [Global System on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of PGRFA] through, [inter alia], accelerating the development of the [Global Information and Early Warning System]; and developing ways to promote the transfer of environmentally sound technologies to developing countries.

The [UN Workshop for Creative Financing for Environmentally Sound Technologies] (Belem, 1990) proposed a selection of mechanisms for financing development and diffusion of such technologies. UN Environment Programme's (UNEP) [Environmental Technology Assessment Programme] (EnTA) encourages the use of environmental technology assessment to support the development and transfer of environmentally sound technologies.

The [International Environmental Technology Centre] (IETC) was created to facilitate the transfer of environmentally-sound technologies (ESTs) to developing countries and to countries with economies in transition. The Centre is supported by two Japanese foundations: the Global Environment Centre Foundation (GEC) handles urban environmental problems while the International lake Environment Committee Foundation (ILEC) contributes accumulated knowledge on sustainable management of freshwater resources. ITEC pays specific attention to urban problems such as sewage, air pollution, solid waste, noise and to the management of freshwater lakes and reservoir basins. It bases its strategy on Agenda 21 and pursues three issues: the improvement of access to information on ESTs; the fostering of technology cooperation, partnerships and transfer; and the building of endogenous capacity.

Developing countries are well placed - probably even better placed than old industrial countries - to take advantage of new recycling technologies, because installing water efficiency and pollution controls into new plants is much cheaper than retrofitting old ones. Some of the technologies available are capable of reducing water use and waste water flows by up to 90%. Information on these technical options should be disseminated systematically. Technology transfer could thus contribute to alleviating water supply and pollution problems in the emerging industrial countries.
Type Classification:
C: Cross-sectoral strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal