Environmental technology assessment is an analytical tool used to help understand the likely impact on the environment of a new technology being used by an industry, municipality, country or society. As such, ETA can be utilised to strengthen local capabilities in decision-making on environmentally sound technologies.
In the past, technology transfer has generally not contributed to an improvement in overall welfare, because only the economic impact of such transfers was taken into account.
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 that the international community, in particular UN agencies, international organizations and other appropriate and private organizations, should help exchange experience and develop capacity for technology needs assessment, in particular in developing countries, to enable them to make choices based on environmentally sound technology.
Environmentally sound technologies (ESTs) encompass technologies that have the potential for significantly improved environmental performance relative to other technologies. Broadly speaking, these technologies protect the environment, are less polluting, use resources in a sustainable manner, recycle more of their wastes and products, and handle all residual wastes in a more environmentally acceptable way than the technologies for which they are substitutes. Furthermore, as argued in Chapter 34 of Agenda 21, Environmentally Sound Technologies are not just "individual technologies, but total systems which include know-how, procedures, goods and services, and equipment as well as organizational and managerial procedures.
There is an intrinsic relationship between development, environment and technology and technology needs assessment (TNA). TNA can be an important instrument for the identification of technology needs, the development of sector specific technology strategies and facilitator of sound technology acquisition and transfer. It is argued that technology and development processes have to be organically linked into a technology development plan backed by policy declarations with operational value.
The techniques employed for needs assessment include direct observation, interviews of individuals, groups, and key informants among the target beneficiaries and study of secondary data. To select a suitable technological option, alternative technological designs have to be assessed taking into consideration the target groups socio-economic and biophysical environment.
The methodology for technology assessment should include an integrated approach involving multi-disciplinary expertise. Such approach requires data bases, expertise in statistical manipulation, techniques for formulating alternative scenarios and models of possible outcomes. Supporting techniques include: (a) cost benefit analysis; (b) multiple network analysis; (c) cross-impact analysis; (d) operations research; (e) questionnaires; (f) sequential polling and review by interacting expert teams; (g) mitre methodology; and (h) scenario building. A multi-stakeholder approach is also emphasized.
The UNEP Industry and Environment Office made the link between technology needs assessment and three programmes being carried out by UNEP, namely the Ozone Action Programme, related to the Montreal Protocol, the Cleaner Production Programme and the Environmental Technology Assessment (EnTA) programme.
An international workshop was planned on national needs assessment by the Netherlands and Switzerland in February 1996. National Needs Assessment (NNA) aims at establishing a national policy framework for the application and management of Environmentally sound technologies (EST). The objective of the NNA is to identify the capacity- building needs for a country. These capacities have to be realized in order to remove the bottlenecks for EST application. This EST application serves for reaching the socio-economic and environmental goals set by the country in order to reach sustainable development. Once the capacities are realized, they will facilitate the private sector to adopt technologically sustainable solutions.
There is need for the creation of national capacities for the conduct of technology needs assessment, technology assessment and technology forecasting. Without such capacity, transfer of environmentally sound technology will be difficult.