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Monday, 30 May 2016

It is time for the rich to learn from the poor

By Saleemul Huq, ICCCAD
Technology transfer to tackle climate change is a major issue in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and includes both technology for mitigation (reducing emissions) as well as for adaptation (adjusting to the changes climate change is bringing).
However, there are significant differences in both the types of technology as well as direction of transfer for mitigation technology versus adaptation technology.
Members of a women group in Bangladesh.TRF/Laurie Goering
With mitigation technology, transfers generally have to do with physical technologies such as solar panels or wind turbines, which need to be transferred from one country (usually a developed country) to another (usually a developing country).
In this case, the transfer is deemed to have occurred once the hardware is installed at its destination and switched on.
However, when it comes to adaptation technology such hard technologies are the exception rather than the rule.
While there are indeed engineering-type technologies (the classic example being building dykes for protection against floods), the vast majority of adaptation technologies involve sharing knowledge based on experience or sharing information on how to get different institutions to interact and cooperate with each other.
Thus, when it comes to addressing adaptation it is less about constructing things and more about sharing knowledge based on actually doing things. Adaptation is a classic learning-by-doing activity where what has been learned, based on experience, is the key thing that needs to be transferred.
For mitigation, the direction of transfer of technologies (at least so far) has been from developed countries that have the capacity for research and development to developing countries (although increasingly some of the transfer is going the other way, such as for solar panels from China to America and Europe).
But with adaptation technology it is actually the poorer and more vulnerable developing countries (such as the Least Developed Countries) which have the most of value to share.
They have planned and carried out pilot adaptations for longer and have built up a base of knowledge that they can share – and not just South-to-South but also South-to-North.
A good example of this is the recently held 10th International Conference on Community Based Adaptation in Dhaka, where nearly 200 participants from all over the world spent a week travelling to and seeing community level adaptation in practice in Bangladesh and learning from the practitioners themselves.
Finally, the form in which technology (including knowledge) is most effectively transferred is also different between mitigation as adaptation.
Whereas mitigation technology transfer often involves a classic North-to-South transfer of hardware, adaptation technology (and knowledge) is much more effectively transferred by having the people who need the knowledge visit those who have experience of tackling the problem, so they can learn by spending time with them.
Such face-to-face knowledge exchange visits, to the places which have already gained knowledge of tackling different adverse impacts of climate change, is by far the most effective means of transferring know-how.
Given that the poorest countries have been tackling climate change impacts longer than the richer countries, when it comes to transfer of adaptation technology and knowledge, the best option may be for the rich to learn from the poor.

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